December 31, 2012

The Most Powerful Sermon I Never Heard

To get you ready for good habits in the new year, here is post from the blog of David Murray, professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI.  I do hope you'll click through and read the whole article!

One of the most powerful sermons in my life was totally silent.

22 years ago, I was in the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, courting my hoped-to-be wife, Shona. I’d been brought up in the large and loud city of Glasgow, but Shona was raised in Ness, a little village at the most distant tip of the one of the most distant island in Scotland.

The island was one of the few places left in the world where everything closed on Sunday – apart from churches. No shops, no buses, no planes, no gas stations, no sport. Nothing!  ...  Sound like a nightmare? More like a dream; close to paradise, actually.

Keep reading (please!)...

December 24, 2012

Christmas Poems, Collected

Most every year at our church's Christmas Eve service, I read a Christmas poem - an imaginative (but biblical) angle on the incarnation ... seen, each succeeding year, from the perspective of a different player in the drama at Bethlehem. Here they all are, collected in one place, now with audio files included:

2002 - A Research Day in Nazareth (Mary) - Read - Listen
2003 - There's Always Wheat Among the Tares (Simeon) - Read - Listen
2004 - Let them Say what they will Say (Joseph) - Read - Listen
2005 - The Not-So Wise Man (Magi) - Read - Listen
2006 - Lost Sheep, that's who the Shepherd's for (shepherds) - Read - Listen
2007 - Pregnant Pause (Zachariah) - Read - Listen
2008 - The Day I Leapt for Someone Else (John the Baptist) - Read - Listen
2009 - House of Bread (a shepherd) - Read - Listen
2010 - Just when you Think all Hope is Gone (Anna) - Read - Listen
2012 - The Return of the Magi (Magi) - Read - Listen

Christmas Poem, 2012: "The Return of the Magi"

Taking a cue from the final stanza of TS Eliot’s famous poem, “The Journey of the Magi,” I wrote my own counterpart ... wondering what it must have been like for these sorcerer/magicians to return to their pagan homelands after having witnessed the world (and life)-altering birth of the Messiah.

The first stanza begins below.  Click "read more" to continue with the whole thing.  Click here for audio.

With gifts unloaded, greetings said,
Bent on our knees beside His bed –
We stayed down low, who knows how long,
And licked the dust, where we belong.
It seemed a stone had rolled away,
With new born hearts, we longed to stay
And bask beside the splintered crib,
Without the glitter and the glib
Of home. How could we leave this Child
And re-traverse the deserts, wild,
And trav’ling home find all was gone
Of old lives we had left that dawn
With gold and incense in our hands
To set out from our pagan lands
To find a King?


December 19, 2012

Christmas Sermons

Here are a couple of somewhat non-traditional Christmas sermons (and one traditional one!) to help you celebrate, reflect, and wonder this advent season:

Exodus 16 - The Manna from Heaven*
2 Chronicles 6.18 - "Will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth?"
Luke 2.8-20 - "Good news of great joy"

You can access more Christmas sermons by visiting our sermon archives, sorting the sermon grid by "series," and scrolling down alphabetically to the "Christmas" section.

*This sermon was part of a longer series of Old Testament portraits of Christ, which can be listened to here, or purchased in book form here.

December 17, 2012

Ten Reasons God Became Flesh

Birthdays are quaint days of paying token honor to friends and family. Celebrations happen. Thanksgivings are made. Gifts are given. Then one day later … life goes on just like before. And for many people, that’s Christmas. We reminisce about Jesus. We set aside a day to honor Him. Then we get back to our normal routine. But Christmas ought to be so much more! Christmas is cataclysmic! It’s the day when the barrier between earth and heaven began to be peeled back. It’s the day when the immortal, invisible God of the Bible took on flesh and pitched his tent among us! That’s not quaint … that’s earth-shaking. Let me remind you why, with 10 reasons God became a man:

1. So sinful men might see God. God, majestic on His throne, cannot even be approached by sinful men (much less seen by them), lest they be incinerated by His holiness. But in Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph, and a group of ragamuffin shepherds laid eyes on Him who is very God of very God. And so may we. “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1.18).

2. To testify to the truth. Jesus was born to teach. The crowds were amazed as He spoke for God with authority and understandability. “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18.37).

3. To bring grace and truth together. Truth without grace is hard. And so many legalistic people (Old Testament and New) experience the hardness of the Law without a Savior. But Jesus came, upholding the highest standards of truth … yet lavishing the greatest mercy on people who were unable to live up to them – see John 8. “The law was given through Moses…grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1.17).

4. So He might “save His people from their sins” (Matt 1.21). Sin must be punished. But God has a purpose to set sinners free. So how will He do it? He will lay their sins on another. But who is there who has no sins of his own for which he must pay? There is no one like that … unless God Himself, the only sinless one, becomes a man and dies for sins Himself!

5. To be a “light of Revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2.32). Up until that holy night in Bethlehem, God’s plan of salvation had been at work almost exclusively among the Jews. But the Babe was born to bring salvation to every tongue and tribe – and that means us!

6. So we might be God’s children. Not only does God forgive our sins and treat us as righteous. He also adopts us as His beloved children. That’s why “in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman … so that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4.4).

7. To rule the world. The lowly child in the manger came to take over this planet – and your life. “His kingdom shall have no end” (Luke 1.33).  "He will be great to the ends of the earth" (Micah 5:4).

8. To bring peace for the future. Isaiah prophesied that “every boot of the booted warrior in the battle of tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us…” (Is 9.5-6). That baby of Bethlehem is going to one day bring about an end to all war, famine, pain, revenge, and evil. What a day!

9. To bring peace on earth now. The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Resting in Jesus, we have peace even now, though the world crumbles around us.

10. To prove that God does the impossible. If God can become man, and come to dwell in a teenager’s womb, surely He can meet you in your “impossible” circumstances as well! For “nothing will be possible with God” (Luke 1.26-38).

December 11, 2012

Like Father, Like Son

Here’s a little more information than I was able to fully fit onto the plate this past Sunday …

As I mentioned in the message, John MacDonald wasn’t the only evangelist in his family. His father, James, was a ‘catechist’ – a lay evangelist, teaching the Bible and the catechism to the Gaelic-speaking people all over his home parish of Reay. And MacDonald’s son, John, Jr., was a foreign missionary to Calcutta, arriving on Indian soil just three years after William Carey died. Much of this I mentioned on Sunday. But let me tell you more about John, Jr.

As a young man, MacDonald’s oldest son became a powerful preacher, something like his father, and was called to be the pastor of a Gaelic-speaking congregation in the great metropolis of London … shepherding immigrant Scots who’d moved to the Empire’s capital for better working prospects. And young MacDonald, like his father, was a great success! Indeed, John Sr. had great hopes that his son might return to the north of Scotland, and pastor one of the large and well-organized congregations there – where his Gaelic would be most useful, and (not insignificantly) where he would be much closer to dear old dad, who loved him deeply.

But young John had too much of his father in him to ‘settle’ for such an opportunity. He’d long watched his father praying earnestly for poor, unreached souls in places like St. Kilda – and often seen his father triumphantly winning such needy souls to Christ. Indeed, so long and so often had he seen his father’s passion to “preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named,” that young John could not help but have the same sort of passion! He could not return home and settle into the now much more evangelized Highlands. Nor could he stay in London. No! Like his father, he had to get out; to go where Christ wasn’t known; to preach where the gospel wasn’t yet preached! And, in God’s providence, India seemed to be just the place!

Nothing could have made his father more happy, don’t you think? In some ways, yes. But in some ways – and like every loving parent, I am sure – John wanted his son closer to home! In fact, when the son asked his father’s thoughts on his becoming a missionary to India, the elder MacDonald wrote back a long letter, filled with both the pros and cons of such an undertaking – but the list of cons was much longer, and more passionate, than the pros! So take heart, parents who face such a request. You’re not alone in your struggle to let go and grant the blessing! Even the greatest of evangelists have a hard time letting their children go to foreign fields!

But – inner struggle though it was – after much back and forth between father and son (with son using his father’s own missionary passion as a tool in his own chest of persuasion!), the father was able to say to the Lord “Thy will be done”; and to his son “May the Lord God of your fathers be with you, and give you ample success among the poor inhabitants of India.” And his son went … gallantly, boldly, and successfully proclaiming glad tidings of great joy, like his father, “not where Christ was already named.”

I see two missionary lessons in this.

First, it is no accident that the two John MacDonald’s had a passion for the lost, and for the advance of God’s kingdom among the least reached. Both of them spent their entire growing up years watching their fathers passionately laboring to win such people to Jesus – prompting me to ask, especially the fathers who read these lines: ‘What are our children watching us give our lives to? What is our passion?’

Second, the story of John MacDonald’s missionary son reminds us that our children are not our own, but God’s. And therefore, difficult as it may be (and it was for MacDonald), we must be willing to say regarding our little ones: ‘The Lord’s will be done’ – even if the Lord’s will is that they go to India, or Greenland, or the desserts of Egypt to live and die, far from home, proclaiming the glad tidings where Christ has not already been named!

MacDonald’s son did both live and die far from home. He left for India in 1837 and died ten years later, never having seen his father’s face again after leaving his native shores. John Kennedy, the elder MacDonald’s biographer, describes the father’s reaction to the news as follows:
In 1847, while Dr. Macdonald was on one of his preaching tours in Perthshire, and just before entering the pulpit in Glenlyon, a letter is put into his hand. Intent on his work, he put the letter unopened into his pocket. Next day, as he was travelling to Edinburgh, he recollected the letter, and on opening it read the tidings of his son's death. A few groans from a father s wounded heart, and a few tears from a fond father's eyes, and the Christian triumphed over the man, and with his heart he said, "It is well." On reaching home he preached from these words in his own pulpit. "'It is well,'" he said, referring to his beloved John, "that he was born; 'it is well' that he was educated; it is better far that he was born again; 'it is well' that he was licensed to preach the gospel; 'it is well' that he was ordained as a pastor; ‘it is well' that he went to India; and above all, 'it is well' for him that he died; for thus, though away from us, and 'absent from the body,' he has secured the gain of being for ever with the Lord."
As the father of six, believe me when I tell you that I do not say this lightly; but I say it nonetheless: May it be that we all would view our children in such a way, surrendering them to the Lord – even if He should choose to carry them far, far away – to be used for the sake of the gospel at the ends of the earth! What better way for us, like young John MacDonald, to imitate our Father (in heaven)?

December 8, 2012

Missionary Links Worth Clicking: Lottie Moon

Today's missionary link worth clicking is the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.


We Southern Baptists collect this special offering every December, and 100 cents of every dollar goes to support work and workers on foreign fields.  If your church participates, please give generously.  If not, you can give online ... or better yet, use a little bit of your holiday money to bless some missionary that your church supports!

To read more about why we named this offering after Lottie Moon, click here.

December 7, 2012

Missionary Links Worth Clicking: Operation World

Today's missionary link worth clicking is Operation World.  
Simply put, this is the most comprehensive missions prayer guide ever printed.  Every country on the globe is detailed statistically, geographically, and (most importantly) religiously ... with numerous prayer requests for the advance of the gospel in each place.  

You can buy the book from Amazon, or get other Operation World  resources through their website.

December 6, 2012

Missionary Links Worth Clicking: HeartCry

Today's missionary link worth clicking is an agency: HeartCry Missionary Society.

Founded by Paul Washer, HeartCry supports indigenous missionaries - Peruvian men preaching Christ in Peru, African men preaching Christ in Africa, and so on.  Both monetarily, and with regular encouragement and needed training, HeartCry walk by the side of these men, strengthening their hands in Christ's great work.  Check out their website, where you can give online.

Also, here's a video from Paul Washer, introducing the ministry:


December 5, 2012

Missionary Links Worth Clicking: God's Glory in China

Today's missionary link worth clicking is an excellent blog on the work of the gospel in China: God's Glory in China.

The largest country in the world demands great attention when it comes to allocating resources for the gospel.  So check out my friend's blog, and learn more about China's needs, and how you might pray.


December 4, 2012

Missionary Links Worth Clicking: Dispatches from the Front

If you really want to whet your appetite for God's glory among the nations, check out the excellent missions videos called Dispatches from the Front.  Your heart will be stirred with real-life stories of how the good news is going forth, how people are bowing the knee to Jesus, and how the gates of hell are not prevailing against His church.

Here's a trailer.  Watch it, and then get the videos ... all of them.

December 3, 2012

Missionary Links Worth Clicking

This is Missions Week at PRBC.  So, each day this week, I'm going to send out a "missionary link worth clicking" - a little something to whet your appetite for praying, giving, and going so that Christ's name might be great among the nations.

We'll start with yesterday's sermon from Romans 15.20.  What sort of people ought we be, if we are to go as missionaries?  And to what sorts of folks ought the rest of us devote the energy of our prayers, and the generosity of our giving?  What is a true missionary's heartbeat?  Listen in as we consider it together ... and be prepared to pray, and give, and perhaps go yourself!

Romans 15.20 - The Missionary Heartbeat

December 2, 2012

Lo, I am with you Always

Today marks the beginning of our annual Missions Week at Pleasant Ridge. 


It is always one of the highlights of the year for me … and I hope for our congregation, too! And the emphasis is always exactly the same – namely, that the message of Jesus is too good to keep to ourselves! Therefore the Christian church must be about spreading that good news to the farthest corners of the planet. And we, in our little congregation, must be about that business – all of us by praying for and giving to those who go and preach; and some of us by going to do the preaching ourselves – from pulpits, under mango trees, beside hospital beds, in orphanages, in Bible clubs, as English teachers, and so on.  The same can be said of each of you who read these words electronically (and of your church).

I’ll say it again. Though our church is small (and maybe yours is, too), surely some of our number must go – short term or long; near or far. There are simply too many villages, and campuses, and mega-cities, and islands where God is not receiving the glory due His name; too many people and places still walking in darkness for us to keep our gospel candles hidden under a basket. So I hope that someone reading these few lines will hear the call to go … and will answer!

And, when (not if!) you “go … and make disciples of all nations” – here is the best encouragement I can give to you – the Lord Jesus Himself promises to go “with you” (Matthew 28.19-20) … even to the remotest parts of the earth! “Lo, I am with you always” He says! Isn’t that grand? Jesus will be with us in Greenland, or Indonesia, or Congo, or Over-the-Rhine!

Now, of course, many of us know the attributes of God. We know that He is omnipresent; that He is everywhere at once; that there is nowhere that we can go in the world where God is not already there. David said, if I can paraphrase Psalm 139, that if he could go to the Mariana Trench, nearly seven miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, he would find that God was there! Or if he could ascend with the astronauts, and push out in to the reaches of the solar system, God would also be there. Even in the grave, David said, he could not escape God’s presence! God is everywhere! And so, ‘of course,’ we might tell ourselves, ‘He will be with us, no matter to which mission field we may go.’ And that is a true and wonderful thought!

But Jesus is speaking about something even more than God’s omnipresence in Matthew 28. Yes, God is everywhere present, around and among all people everywhere. But He is not “with” all people in exactly the way He promises to be “with” those who bear the light of the gospel to dark lands. This is a unique promise! Jesus is not simply saying: ‘When you get to Greenland, or Indonesia, or Congo, you will find that I am present there just like I am in Cincinnati.’ That’s true … and wonderful! But Matthew 28.20 promises even more than that. Jesus won’t just be in Greenland when you get there, He will go “with you” every step along the way, like the pillars of fire and cloud in days of old! And when you finally arrive, He will not simply be “with you” in His omnipresence, but as a companion, a helper, and a friend! He will be “with you”, not simply as a great eye in the sky, looking down and watching all that you undertake, but as a co-laborer, a counselor, a friend in time of need!

Now, of course, our Jesus is with all of His believing people in that way; and in every circumstance – whether we are raking our leaves, or wrapping our Christmas presents, or clocking in at work, or lying in bed asleep. He is with all of His people. And He is with all of us always. But in Matthew 28, He promises special blessing, comfort, fellowship, and help when we are going to make disciples! And what more could we ask?

Do you fear answering His call to take the good news to the remotest part of the earth – or perhaps just to the co-worker in the next cubicle? Jesus will walk “with you” around the corner and to her desk. He’ll fly “with you” across the sea, too. He’ll help you and prompt you as to what to say. He’ll be there when things don’t go as you planned. He’ll meet your needs, and calm your fears. He’ll go “with you”! And now you must simply decide to go with Him – to Greenland, or Indonesia, or Congo, or Over-the-Rhine, or to the next cubicle, apartment, or house – sharing news that is too good to keep to yourself!

November 26, 2012

Sermons on the Lord's Prayer

We just finished a five-part study of Jesus' model (or Lord's) prayer.  Listen in, be encouraged ... and pray!

Matthew 6.9  - "Our Father who is in heaven"
Matthew 6.10 - "On earth as it is in heaven"
Matthew 6.11 - "Give us this day our daily bread"
Matthew 6.12 - "Forgive us our debts"
Matthew 6.13 - "Do not lead us into temptation"*




*Note that, over the course of this sermon, both the NASB version of Matthew 6.13 (quoted above) and the King James Version ("lead us not into temptation") are used.  Otherwise, scripture quotations are taken from the NASB®.

November 24, 2012

Make me a Servant

“Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” So says Jesus in Mark 10. “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” That’s according to the apostle Paul in Philippians 2. There are a thousand ways this attitude of putting others first ought to show itself in our daily lives. Let me remind you of a few ways we can make it so when we gather as a church families on Sundays and Wednesdays. How can you put the rest of your church family ahead of yourself each week?

 Be on time

 Leave the front parking spaces open for the disabled and for guests

 When you see a problem (e.g. a spill on the floor or trash in the yard), take care of it yourself if possible

 Clean up behind yourself (in the auditorium, at lunch, in the bathroom)

 Refuse to listen to gossip

 Phone a member who has been sick or absent to check on them

 Send a note of encouragement or thanks to a fellow church member

 Instead of just promising to pray for someone who mentions a prayer request to you, stop and pray right then and there

 Use the church directory as a prayer list

 Don’t be first in line at the fellowship meals

 Be on the look-out for guests; introduce yourself to them; learn their names; invite them to sit with you

 Obtain a guests’ contact information, and invite them over for dinner or dessert

 Tithe

 Volunteer your time with the children’s ministries

 Perform your servant ministry role faithfully and gladly

 Send a letter of encouragement to one of your missionaries

 Support your missionaries financially

Of course, servanthood doesn’t begin or end with lists, does it? Servanthood is an attitude of the heart. It is an overflow of God’s grace which has been poured out on us in Jesus, the Beloved. Servanthood is empowered and motivated by that grace. So … if Jesus has so loved and served us, should we not love and serve one another?

November 13, 2012

Could my Tears Forever Flow

I had a unique opportunity to share the good news yesterday. As I was visiting in the hospital, I passed by a kindly looking older woman in a waiting area, and she smiled broadly as I went on my way. On the way back out, there she still sat, continually smiling broadly at passers-by. I smiled back, and then felt the Spirit nudging me to turn around and talk to her. So I went back and began the conversation by simply saying, ‘Ma’am, I’ve seen your big smile twice now, and I just want to thank you. It encouraged me.’

We began to talk about why she was in the waiting room, the fact that she’d just been discharged, and so on. Eventually she said that she felt God had healed her and was sending her home because He still had something more for her to do. She said it with such a confidence and a joy that I thought, ‘Well, she must be a Christian, with an attitude like that!’ So I asked if I could read her the passage of Scripture I’d just finished reading to my friend upstairs. She agreed, and we read Romans 8.32 – about God not sparing Jesus, but delivering Him over for us all; and promising, along with this greatest of gifts, to give us everything else we need. I wasn’t sure, at first, if she’d ever heard the verse before. Then, as we talked about it a little further, it became clear that the good news itself was something foreign to her.

She spoke of how God deals differently with ‘good souls’ versus ‘wicked souls,’ and how we all need to strive to be among the good, not the bad. When I explained that “there is none good,” and that this is why we needed a Savior to die in our place, she seemed perplexed. She agreed, as we talked, that we all ‘make mistakes,’ but questioned the necessity of the cross by saying, ‘Don’t you think that if we’re really sorry, and if we try to do better, God will just accept that?’ In other words, she was saying: ‘Do we really need a death to take place? Can’t God just forgive us without such a penalty … simply because we sincerely ask Him?’

I explained that she was right to be sorry for sins, and to ask God’s forgiveness; that this is absolutely necessary. But I went on to explain how serious sin is, and that its consequences cannot simply be wiped away without someone paying for the crime. Repentance, by itself, does not cover sin. We need an atonement; a Savior to come and pay our debts for us. And God loved us enough to send Jesus to do it!

‘This is the really good news,’ I said to her. ‘Not that God welcomes ‘good souls’ into heaven, but even bad ones like you and me! And that, in order to do so, He was even willing to send His Son to die the death that we deserve!’ I’m not sure she was convinced. So, with an encouragement to read the gospel of Mark (Jesus’ biography) and Romans 3 (which powerfully proclaims the truths I was urging upon her), we parted ways. I pray she will read those passages, and that her smile will become even broader when she realizes how wonderful the news of Jesus really is.

After I left her, it occurred to me that there were two important lessons, in my hospital encounter, to learn about sharing the good news.

First is simply that we can’t presume people are Christians just because they speak happily, and even somewhat accurately, about God. This woman, wonderfully, had a sense of the goodness and sovereignty of God in her life. But, as we talked, it became clear that she did not adequately understand His holiness, or (consequently) her sin and need of a Savior. There are people like that around us every day. They know God, but they don’t really know Him. So don’t assume people are Christians, even if they may sound like it at first. Probe them (kindly!) and see.

Second, remember that the good news is about what Jesus has done, not what we can do. This dear woman was right. We must be truly sorry for our sins, and ask God’s forgiveness, and strive to leave them behind. That’s what the Bible calls repentance. But repentance, by itself, does not save. The message of the gospel is: “Repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis mine). My new friend had an inkling of the first part, but no idea of the second. But repentance without faith in the finished work of Jesus is no good news. It’s bad news, because we could never repent enough!

But again, in my presumption, I might have almost overlooked this necessary piece of information. Had this nice lady’s comments about being sorry for our ‘mistakes’ not come as a kind of rebuttal to my explanation of Christ’s death; had she just said, at the beginning, ‘O, if we are truly sorry for our wrongs, and ask God to forgive us, and try do better, He is wonderful to forgive’ … I might have left it at that. I might have assumed: ‘Well, she seems to understand “repentance toward God”, so she must surely understand “faith in Jesus Christ”.’ But she didn’t. Jesus and the cross were foreign to her.

So what am I saying? What is the second lesson I learned? That we must, must, must explain Jesus Christ! No one is saved without Him, no matter how sincere their apologies to God may be. As Augustus Toplady put it, in his hymn to the Lord Jesus:

Could be zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and thou alone!

November 5, 2012

Gospel Letters

When I first set out in Christian ministry, I never intended to be a writer. I find it far too easy to run my mouth to have ever dreamed of making much use of my pen! So I never thought I’d maintain a blog. Never imagined I’d ever write a sermon out in full manuscript form. Certainly never believed I’d publish a book or even a tract. In fact, I can remember driving down the highway, during our engagement, telling Tobey to stop me cold if I ever got the hair-brained idea to write a Christian book! She obviously did not obey! And, over time, I have found that the pen (or keyboard) can be a mighty tool in God’s hand.

Specifically, this week, I am reminded of what a blessing hand-written letters can be. 


Very few of us receive them anymore, do we? Almost everything is in typeface these days, even when it does come via snail mail. So, when someone has taken the time to write something by hand, it comes into our mailbox as a kind of quaint surprise … and we tend to be much more eager to read such surprises! And that gets me thinking about our friends, and family, and co-workers who need to hear the gospel. Hopefully we look for opportunities to give verbal witness. Surely it is also imperative that our behavior shines forth a living testimony, too. But I wonder if you’ve ever thought to take up your pen and share the news about Jesus in the form of a letter. I think it can be one of our greatest gospel outlets – the old-fashioned, hand-written letter!

For one thing, conveying the gospel by means of letters is thoroughly biblical (see Romans-Jude in the New Testament!). Further, as I already mentioned, your friend or co-worker will be much more likely to take the time to read your letter if you have taken the time to write it out in long-hand. Moreover, some of us tend to be able to put our thoughts together a little more clearly (and perhaps calmly) on paper … making for a more coherent witness. Also, letters can be read and re-read … so that the gospel has opportunity to sink in over and over again. And finally, a hand-written letter communicates seriousness, care, and even love. Isn’t that so? I dare say that words written out with pen and ink (and on a nice sheet of paper!) carry twice as much weight as the very same words printed on copy paper in Times New Roman font. The effect is probably quadrupled in comparison to electronic communication! There is just something about your own unique hand-writing (poor as your penmanship may be!) that says to the recipient of your letter: ‘I really care about you.’

So try it out, this letter-writing thing. Is there someone with whom you’ve been wanting to share Jesus, but have been unable? Perhaps a thoughtful, peaceful letter (with an invitation to speak further) is the solution. Or maybe there is a list of people who are already expecting to receive some sort of hand-written communication from you this Christmas. Why not replace that Christmas card with a little longer letter, explaining why you so love the baby in the manger? Think also about prisoners, folks in the retirement home, soldiers on deployment, and students away at school – all of whom would love a thoughtful letter from someone who obviously cares. How open they might be if such a kind, personal communication brought with it a reminder of Jesus and His love?

Let us continue to speak the gospel, to be sure. And let us never fail to adorn the gospel with our lives. But let us also ask the Lord if He might help us, like Paul, to write the gospel, too.

November 2, 2012

"Oh, Hold them Back!" - Thoughts on Abortion and our Elected Officials

I am well aware that, in this election season, the last thing many of us want to see is another campaign sign. In fact, I am greatly looking forward to seeing the green grass again, untrammeled by all the aluminum and plastic (and the October snow!). So you’ll be glad to know that this is not another political advertisement. I have no interest in telling you who deserves your vote next week. There are many other races besides the presidential and senate ones. And, even in the biggie, there are more than two candidates. But there is one issue that, as Christians (and frankly, just as human beings), deserves our utmost attention.

The facts are quite simple. The United States government allows – and in many cases, supports – the killing of unborn children in every state in our union. Many politicians, our current president among them, believe that such abortions should be allowable for any reason (even for something as superficial as gender selection). Many politicians (again, our president included) also support the idea that the government should subsidize some such abortions with taxpayer dollars … and require companies, religious schools, and religious hospitals to provide employee insurance plans that cover abortive drugs and procedures (violating many of those organizations’ religious and moral convictions in the process). To put it simply, our government system currently allows – and in some cases, promotes and sponsors – the killing of a million of her own citizens every year.

These babies, under every other circumstance besides abortion, are protected by all the laws of our land. If a man attacks a pregnant woman with a knife, causing the death of her unborn child, he can be charged with murder or manslaughter. But if a different man, wearing a white coat and working in a clinic, kills the same baby with a drug or a pair of scissors … he is not only no criminal, but in some cases is reimbursed by the government for doing the dirty deed! This is absolute insanity … and wickedness! Surely these issues ought to be on the forefront of our minds as we go to the polls on Tuesday.

Yes, I know – there are other political issues besides this one. Good Christian people amicably disagree over many of them. But does any other issue really matter when certain candidates want to sponsor more and more killing? I also know that the next president (or congressman, or senator), by himself, is not able to change the laws of the land regarding abortion. But the changes must come, even if it is only one elected official at a time. I realize, further, that there are many other ways to defend unborn human lives than just via our elected officials. But if we don’t expect our leaders to uphold basic human (and constitutional) rights, the killing will go on in many, many places … in spite of our best efforts otherwise.

Finally, I realize (as I have preached recently) that it is the gospel, and not the government, that will change our country. I believe that fact on election day just as firmly as the rest of the year! But, though the government cannot change the human heart, they can (and should!) legislate in such a way as to protect the human heartbeat. They can (and must!) put an end to the killing! And we must give them every incentive and opportunity to do so! This is a life and death issue – not a political preference. So I plead with you not to be complicit in any more of the killing – not with your vote, and not in any other way. Yes, pray for our leaders, just as the Bible commands. Don’t bad-mouth them, because the Bible forbids it. Honor and submit to them in every way that it is possible for a Christian to do. But when you have a chance to influence them, or to honorably stand against their evils, do that as well. Every election season affords that opportunity.

As you mull over what you must do, consider Proverbs 24.11-12:

Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, ‘See, we did not know this,’ does He not consider it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?

Don’t put your head in the sand when human beings, made in God’s image, are being slaughtered! Don’t pretend that you don’t know what our government is doing. God, who keeps your soul, is watching. So I plead with you, “Oh hold them back” – yes, in all those other ways that life must be protected and promoted; but also with your vote. “Oh hold them back!”

October 30, 2012

Snow in October

Yes, it's still October in Ohio.  And yes, it snowed this morning.  Kim, the almanac was right!  Thanks, Sandy.

Abort73

A great website for facts and stats on abortion, and pro-life plans of action, too.


October 29, 2012

Sermon Series: Gospel Portraits (or, Pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament)

We recently completed our second installment of what I've called Gospel Portraits - various (mostly Old Testament) characters, events, and objects that picture for us the work of Jesus on behalf of sinners.  I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing Jesus portrayed all throughout the scriptures.  I hope you will, too.

1 Samuel 17 - The People's Champion
Hosea 3.1-2 - "So I bought her for myself"
Leviticus 16 - Yom Kippur
Philemon 1.18 - "Charge that to my account"
2 Kings 13.20-21 - The Bones of Elisha

Also, here is the list of sermons from the first installment:

Exodus 16 - The Manna from Heaven
Genesis 6-8 - The Ark of Noah
Jonah 1-3 - The Sign of Jonah
Song of Solomon - The Lover of my Soul
Genesis 22.1-14 - The Ram in the Thicket
Exodus 12 - The Passover Lamb
Exodus 25-30 - The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
Numbers 21.1-9 - The Serpent on a Pole

The first series of sermons was also turned into a book, which may be ordered here.

Current Sermon Series


October 28, 2012

Reflecting on Ten Years

As I mentioned in the previous post, this past weekend marks ten years since I assumed the role as pastor at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church.  Below is a copy of the corresponding letter I wrote our congregation ...

Dear PRBC family,

Thank you so much for the surprise gift, cake, and chorus of thanksgivings last Sunday. No one let the cat out of the bag, and Tobey and I really were surprised! Of course, when I saw Jason Skidmore at prayer meeting, I wondered if maybe something was up. When Allen and Heather came for Sunday School, I was pretty sure. And when Andrew and Kimberly were in the pews at 11:00, the game was up! But before 9am Sunday, I had no idea. So thank you … to those of you who gave, those who spoke, those who planned, and those who have quietly prayed for us these last ten years. Each of you is a blessing to our family in ways that are hard to calculate.

Upon anniversaries such as ten years as pastor, one gets to thinking, reminiscing, and taking stock. I’ve been doing some of that in recent days and weeks. I don’t have space, in this little column, to say everything that comes to mind … nor would you want to take the time to read it all! But here are a few thoughts that come readily …

1. Being a pastor is harder than I thought. I don't want you to hear any violins to play plaintively in the background while you read this, but I must say that I had no idea what I was getting into ten years ago!  More than anything else, the task of preaching Christ as He truly ought to be preached is a more daunting a responsibility than I ever realized.  No preacher, no matter how seasoned, is ever sufficient for such a calling.  Beyond that, no seminary training can prepare a young man for the death of a church member; for recovering himself when he makes really foolish mistakes; for all the struggles that come with shepherding real, live people who are sinners just like their pastor. So yes, there have been times when I have said to myself: ‘What on earth did I sign up for?’ And, because I often had no idea what I was really getting into, I have made a good many blunders along the way. Some of them laughable. Some of them truly hurtful. Many who read these lines are the very ones I’ve hurt. Thank you for sticking with a twenty-five year-old who was – and often still is – in over his head.

2. Being a pastor is better than I thought. Again I start with the preaching task.  Who can fully describe what a privilege and joy it is to spend the week studying the love of God in Christ, and then getting to herald such a message week by week to God's people?  I feel most at home standing behind 'the sacred desk', boasting in Jesus!  And that task is far more satisfying than I ever knew it would be!  I can say the same about the relational side of pastoral ministry.  Just as no seminary can adequately prepare a future pastor for all the various twists, turns, sins, and surprises that take place in a local church … neither can the classroom give him any idea how much his people will become an inseparable part of his life. You all have become our family in every real and possible way (sometimes including sharing living space together!). And Tobey and I wouldn’t have it any other way! This is much more than a job for us. You are our family … and you have worn that mantle well. How many other professions are there where a man is so appreciated by those alongside of whom he works? How many other churches, to take it a step father, have been as good to their pastor as you all have been to us? From all the meals you’ve given, to watching our kids, to mowing our grass, to repairing our home, to giving us clothes, to providing needed accountability, to supporting my mission travels, to umpteen other things … you have been a true family to us. Thank you!

3. Pastors need prayer. I am much more vulnerable to temptation, to discouragement, to fear, and to laziness than I ever thought possible ten years ago. Twenty-five year olds arriving at a new charge often think they have the world by the tail. They don’t. Neither do 35 year-olds with twelve years experience. All that to say that I desperately need your prayers. Tobey does too. None of us can be who God wants us to be without His strong support. And He loves to give that support in answer to His people’s prayers! So, “brethren, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5.25). Let us also remember that, wonderful as it is for us to be a family … we are more than a family. We are God’s family – the only church in Pleasant Ridge proclaiming the message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone. O, how serious a responsibility we have – as pastor and people! So let us pray that God’s kingdom would come in this place, and more and more people be brought into His family!

October 23, 2012

10 Years in Ohio

This past weekend marked the 10th anniversary of our coming to Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church.  We were surprised, after the worship service, with a very generous gift from our church family, and with a long time of their giving God thanks for us during our monthly fellowship meal.  They've also been bringing us gobs of food all month long, for Pastor's Appreciation Month.


Having lived with myself for these past ten years, I can honestly say that I wish I was as good a man and pastor as our congregation makes me out to be.  But, having lived with Tobey for those same ten years (plus three), I can also say that she is every bit the marvelous wife and mom that they praised.  In both cases, it is good to be loved and appreciated (and well fed!).  Thank you, PRBC!

October 18, 2012

Our New Looks

Tobey and I both have new looks for the fall ...



She'll be keeping hers until mid-April.  Me, probably not so long.

October 8, 2012

Grasshoppers

Did you know that late summer and early fall is a great time for catching grasshoppers? If not, don’t feel bad. Neither did I! But my children have been catching them by the handfuls in recent weeks – lime green, light brown, and other shades in between. Apparently they are all over the place in our little yard, but I’ve scarcely noticed them all these years. Small as they are, and hidden by the long blades of grass, they’re virtually invisible if you’re an adult, and have places to go and people to see.

And, as I think about the hundreds of grasshoppers that live right under my nose, perpetually unnoticed … I get a little glimpse into the meaning of Isaiah 40.22:

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.

You don’t have to know much about grasshoppers to get the basic gist of that verse. The point is that we, the inhabitants of the earth, are exceedingly small compared to God, just like grasshoppers are to us. We can all see that meaning plainly on the page. But it has been helpful, recently, to realize just how small and insignificant grasshoppers really are. Even though there seem to be hundreds of them living in my lawn; and even though I walked past (and perhaps over!) numbers of them every late summer’s day … they were so small and insignificant, I didn’t even realize they were there! It’s not that I noticed them, and said to myself: ‘Wow, look how small they are!’ It’s that they are so small, and so hidden, and so unimportant to me … that, until recently, it barely even occurred to me that the grasshoppers were out there at all!

According to Isaiah 40.22, that’s how small we human beings are, in comparison with our God. Small enough that, were God not all-seeing and all-knowing, we’d scarcely be noticeable in the wide world of His creation. Just think of the pictures you’ve seen of our planet, taken from outer space. If you did not know that you yourself lived on that little ball of water and clay, you’d have no idea that, beneath the canopy of the trees, there might be little two-legged homo sapiens running around like grass-hoppers. That’s how miniscule we are in the grand scheme of things! Whole nations, says Isaiah 40.15, are no more than specks of dust on God’s scales. And we must never, ever forget that. God, and God alone, is the great One!

But one of the things that makes Him so great is that, when it comes to us grasshoppers, our God is a good deal more like our children than He is like us busy adults. He’s not too big or too busy, in other words, to notice the grasshoppers! No! He loves us grasshoppers – and carefully combs through all the corners of this planet, knowing the name of each and every one of us, and even the numbers of the hairs on our heads! Moreover, like my children with their grasshoppers, He loves to track us down and bring us home as His own peculiar people! Indeed, He sent His Son into the wild grasses of this world to do just that!

So yes, we are exceedingly small and, in many ways, as insignificant as the grasshoppers in the parsonage lawn. And, thus, we must never overestimate ourselves. But neither should we underestimate the love and the persistence of our heavenly Father. He loves finding grasshoppers!

October 3, 2012

Election Season

Fall has officially arrived. The trees have begun their annual fade from green to gold and orange. And the lawns are making their usual transition to blue, red, and the occasional bright yellow … the colors, of course, of the campaign signs! Will you vote for Obama or Romney? Ryan or Biden? And what about all those local politicos you’ve never heard of? It can be an alternately exciting, confusing, and exhausting time of year! But it’s also an important time of year for our country. And, as Christians, we find ourselves right in the middle of it all. But what should we think about the election season? How important are politics, really? And what does it mean to vote Christianly? Here are a few biblical principles:

First, let us remember that we are called to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5.15). God’s people are to be the preservative of their culture – the ones whose gospel proclamation, personal example, social engagement, and sometimes government policy-making keep a society from moral suicide. And, as one of our elders recently reminded me (quoting Wayne Grudem), one of the ways we can be such salt is by exercising our vote in such a way as to be the preservative of our nation. There are other ways of being salt in the culture – many of them perhaps more personal and hands on. But praise God we have a chance to affect national and local policy through something as simple as our votes. So let’s be the salt of the earth this election season.

Now, as we think about exactly how we’ll vote, let’s notice the Bible’s emphasis on kings ruling righteously (see, for instance, Proverbs 16.12 and 20.28). In other words, there is more to being president, governor, or city councilman than who can make the land economically prosperous. Far more important is that a ruler, and his policies, be morally upright. So we should ask questions like: Is this candidate honest? What sorts of sexual and political ethics do his policies promote? What are his commitments to the least of these – the elderly, the unborn, the disabled, the poor? Many times we set these things to one side and choose our candidate largely based on what he can do for my bottom line. But what is pleasing to me is not nearly so important in a ruler as what is pleasing to God!

In the third place, the Bible also affirms that every government is established by God (Romans 13.1-2). Sometimes He gives us wonderful, wise, good leaders. Sometimes (perhaps often because we deserve it) He allows us to be accursed with poor, ungodly ones. But, whoever wins the various elections this fall, each of our leaders will be in office for no less a reason than that God determined it should be so. “There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13.2). So let’s be done with crying in our oatmeal on the Wednesday after an election that doesn’t go our way … and with the four years of bellyaching that often follows. God knows what He’s doing, even if we get who we think is ‘the wrong guy.’ And we should take what our wise God gives us, even if it’s four years of moral or economic famine rather than plenty.

Along those lines, let us also remind ourselves that governments aren’t gods. Yes, they hold a great deal of power. Yes, a lot can go wrong (or right) in a four year span. But neither Obama nor Romney is the messiah. Neither of them holds our future in his hands. Neither of them can take away the things that are dearest to a true Christian. And neither of them is going to save the world, or even our little corner of it. Only Christ can do that! So let us not make the mistake of being too elated if ‘the right guy’ wins, or too ready for doomsday if he doesn’t. The world will neither end, nor be made new, by anything less than the return of the true King!

Finally, let us remember that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3.20) … and that we will live there much, much longer than we live in this American democracy. Shouldn’t that affect how much emotional and financial capital we invest in this thing we call government? Yes, earthly government is important. God says so! But it’s also very, very temporary. We’re just passing through this Vanity Fair. So let’s make sure that, more than anything else, we store up our hopes and our treasures where moth and rust – and national debt, and Social Security scares, and housing crises, and unemployment, and even the rulers to whom God calls us to prayerfully submit – cannot destroy!

September 26, 2012

"The Excitement and the Anticipation"

A good word from Tim Challies re: the difference between the Christian conference, and the normal, Lord's Day worship of the church.  Here's a snippet:
The excitement and the anticipation that marks a conference is often noticeably absent in the local church. A sermon preached at a conference can have a greater impact on a person than the very same sermon preached the next Sunday morning in the context of a church service. Why? Because the person attending the conference has prepared himself to receive that message. He believes he will be blessed, he applies himself, and not surprisingly, he finds in the end that he has been blessed.
Read the whole thing here.

September 25, 2012

Prayers for the Preacher

Every now and again, it’s not a bad thing for me to use this space to repeat something I’ve said before. I know I probably repeat myself, during the sermons, all the time. But today let me repeat something I’ve said about the sermons. Namely, let me remind you of a list of requests I try to make of God each week as I prepare to preach to my people. I have taken several hints from my historical hero, Thomas Boston, in compiling this list … but also made it somewhat my own.  I’m hoping the PRBCers out there might take some of them up and pray for me as well ... and that others of you will pray them for your own pastor. We need it! 

So then, each week, and for both sermons, I try to pray: ‘Lord, help me be:’

  • Penetrating. Help me, Lord not to simply skim along the surface of the text, making shallow observations and predictable applications. Help me, rather, to really think carefully, all the way to the bottom of the passage at hand and how it applies to the people before me. Help me get it right. Help me feed Your people on the kernel, rather than just the husk.
  • Perspicuous. Help me, Lord, not to be opaque. Rather, use my studies and my lips as your instruments of clarifying Your word to Your people. Help me find the outline, the illustrations, even the turns of phrase that You would have me use. Help me not stumble over my words, but preach, in every way, with clarity.
  • Patient. Help me, Lord, not to get ahead of myself (or of You) as I prepare or as I preach. Help me to work patiently enough through my studies, and through my actual sermon, that I leave ample room for the Holy Spirit to interject thoughts, applications, and realizations that I would not have come to had I gone too fast.
  • Personal. Help me, Lord, not to simply preach this message to the congregation, but to myself. Help me apply it to my life, and my family, and my sins, and my walk with You. Help me not to be a mere a road sign that shows the way to others, but never moves a foot itself.
  • Passionate. Help me, Lord – both as I prepare, and as I preach – to positively love the truth I am studying, and the God I am proclaiming. Help me to enjoy studying your word, and thus to really feel what I preach on Sunday morning. Help me to truly rise to the occasion of the text – whether the appropriate corresponding affection be zeal, or joy, or broken-heartedness, or wonder, or indignation, or what-have-you. Help me preach from a full heart, not just a full set of notes.
  • Prophetic. Help me, Lord, not merely to give a Bible lesson … but to really, and appropriately, and powerfully be able to apply Your word to Your people. Help me speak exactly to their circumstances, sins, questions, and struggles – even if I don’t know what any of those things may be. Give me a real message for the people; a word in season; not merely an accurate exposition (indispensible as accuracy is). Let people leave saying: ‘That was exactly what I needed to hear today.’

As I said, this is my list to pray for myself, week-to-week. But I do hope many of you will also set aside some time, perhaps on Saturday evenings or Sunday mornings, to pray for the message and the messenger that God has appointed for you on the coming Lord’s Day. And, while I don’t expect you’ll necessarily pin this little list up on your refrigerator (although it might fit snugly in the fly-leaf of your Bible!), I do hope it gives you a few starting places for prayer!

September 17, 2012

Under the Sun

I’ve begun reading the book of Ecclesiastes this week. And if I’m not careful, it could drive me to the record store to pick up some of the grunge rock of my teenage years. For the book positively oozes with statements of hopelessness and near despair:
  • “All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again. All things are wearisome.” (1.8-9)
  • “It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.” (1.13)
  • “In much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.” (1.18)
  • “There is no advantage for man over beast. All go to the same place. Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?” (3.19-20)
  • “I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.” (9.11)
  • "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” (1.2)

How’s that for encouragement in your daily quiet time?! ‘Your life is meaningless, monotonous, and painful. And the more you understand about it all, the more it hurts. But take courage!  Someday time and chance will catch up to you, and it will all be over.  You’ll die just like the possums on the roadside. And after that, who knows?’

That doesn’t sound like the message of the Bible, does it? It sounds, I say, like some of the rock anthems of my youth ... crying out for real answers to real life, and finding none. And here I find the same sentiments in the black and white pages of the Bible! What gives? How can the Bible talk this way? Why such hopelessness?

Well, the key to understanding the book of Ecclesiastes is to take careful notice of the oft-repeated phrase “under the sun.” Solomon employs the phrase 27 times over the course of the book … and, in doing so, gives us a strong hint as to how the rest of his words should be interpreted. He writes this book only from the vantage point of what can be seen “under the sun.” He writes, in other words, as one who interprets life only by what he can see with his physical eyes; as if there were nothing on the other side of the sun – no heaven; no eternity; nothing beyond what our eyes can see in the world around us. And, observing life from that low vantage point, Solomon is quite realistic about what he sees!

If life is interpreted only based on what may be seen “under the sun”; if what is on the other side is taken out of the equation, then Ecclesiastes is the perfect explanation of our world. It’s really pointless, this life … if viewed only from “under the sun.” If there is no heaven or hell; no eternity in which our struggles will finally make sense; no place of reward for deeds done in righteousness; and no place of torment for acts of sin … well then, as Solomon says, we should all really be overcome with angst and despair.  Grunge, in other words, was an honest assessment of the world ... if viewed only from "under the sun."  That is why it appealed to so many people, I suppose - especially those who saw through the shiny, happy hedonism of so much of American culture.

But, speaking of hedonism, that is the other logical application to all of life's seeming pointlessness and monotony, as Solomon points out in Ecclesiastes.  We either despair because so much of life’s misery and monotony makes no sense when viewed only “under the sun” … or we give ourselves, wholesale, to the American Dream because, well, this life is really all we’ve got. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die (see 8.15).  Those are the logical conclusions if life is assessed only as it may be seen “under the sun” – either the grunge rock approach, or the bubble-gum pop mentality.

But there is another vantage point, is there not?  Life must not be viewed only from "under the sun."  No!  For, on the other side of the sun is a place where our faithfulness through monotonous days and painful circumstances will be rewarded. On the other side of the sun is a place where so much of life’s misery will finally make sense – not as the unintelligible fractals of a faceless providence, but as part of a loving Father's wise plans for doing us good. And on the other side of the sun is a world of joy that will make earthly hedonism seem like mere child’s play!

The book of Ecclesiastes, though, doesn't spend a great deal of time helping us to look at life through that other-worldly keyhole.  Solomon, old and jaded, is not so much interested in assessing life from the other side of the sun.  And I think that is by God's wise design.  This book of alternating despair and hedonism is meant to startle us, I think.  It's meant to stop us in our tracks ... and to remind us of just how shriveled our souls can become if we start to look at the world only from Solomon's latter-day perspective; if we forget to view our lives from the other side of the sun. 

There is realism in the book of Ecclesiastes, to be sure.  And we should read the book and wrestle with that realism.  We should also recognize that many of our friends and neighbors see the world exactly as Solomon saw it.  Perhaps the book of Ecclesiastes can help us understand and feel compassion toward them.  But let us not adopt Solomon's myopic view of the universe.  Let us not live merely “under the sun,” but for the world beyond it!

September 11, 2012

Planting Season

Fall is almost upon us. Giant John Deere harvesters will soon be making their way through Ohio fields, scooping up corn to gather into the proverbial barns. Apples, pumpkins, and persimmons will be ripe for the picking. Cider will be simmering on hot stoves, and thanksgiving dinner will be soon on the table! Harvest season is almost here – my favorite time of year!

But it occurs to me that, at PRBC, the autumn of the year is also a planting season, spiritually and financially. This is the time of year when we have unique opportunities to invest our money to the sowing of gospel seeds among those who need Christ so desperately. Autumn, in our church, is not just harvest, but spiritual planting season!

Beginning in mid-October, and stretching almost until Thanksgiving, we’ll be collecting toys, hygiene items, school supplies, and so on for Samaritan’s Purse and their Operation Christmas Child. With each little shoebox full of goodies that we pack, the child who receives it will also hear the good news of Jesus, and receive written gospel materials in a language they can understand. Many of them will participate, through a local church in their area, in a follow-up Bible study that further explains what it means for them to walk with Jesus. So the few dollars you spend on gifts for these little ones will open a wide door for the good news!

Then, in the month of December, we’ll be collecting our annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for foreign missions. 100% of the money you give goes directly to support missionaries who are sharing Christ overseas. So much of the world has so little opportunity to hear of Jesus. Therefore every single missionary is extremely valuable. In some places, the families we support may be the only link a particular rural village or city neighborhood has with the good news. Therefore what an investment we can make, if we support such men and women!

So autumn and early winter are, for us, not just harvest … but planting season; time for planting our money into the gospel ground, like seed, and trusting that God will grow a great many gospel plants with it!

Now I know that, during the holidays especially, lots of other claims on our finances begin to make themselves known. There are big meals to serve. There are parties to attend. There are, of course, all those gifts that our culture tells us we simply must purchase. And so it may seem as though this is the time of year when we can least afford to be giving lots of money away. But have faith in God! He loves a cheerful giver! And consider this proverb: There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more (Proverbs 11.24).

The picture is of a man – we’ll call him Mr. Generous – who has a large wagonload of seed, all ready to scatter on his field at planting time. But he looks around and sees that his neighbors have much smaller fields, and mush less seed in their wagons. And so he drives along the edges of his field, right along the fence row, and begins throwing large handfuls of his own seed onto his neighbors property. Widow Jones gets five bags’ worth. Farmer Brown gets three, to provide a little extra for his children. Several more go across into the land of Mr. Smith, whose crop turned out so poorly last year.

And, when harvest finally comes, what do we find in the fields around Mr. Generous’s farm? Widow Jones has more than enough this autumn. Farmer Brown and his children have the best Thanksgiving ever. Mr. Smith has enough and to spare. And, wonder of wonders, Mr. Generous appears to be having the best crop he’s seen in many a year – even though he gave away so much of his seed! For “there is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more.” God honors those who honor Him! And if that is true with physical seeds, how much more when we invest in those who preach the gospel!

So let’s make sure, as autumn approaches, that we consider it not only the season of harvest, but a planting season as well!

September 6, 2012

Sermons on the Book of Revelation

We've just completed a fly-over of the book of Revelation - usually taking a chapter or two at a time (although moving more slowly through chapters 1-3).  We did not attempt to unpack every detail, answer every burning question, or decipher every symbol.  But it is hoped that we allowed the main things to be the main things, and the plain things the plain things.  Listen in, benefit, and enjoy!

Revelation 1-22 - Introduction to Revelation
Revelation 1.1-11 - Editor's Preface*
Revelation 1.1-20 - Biographical Sketch of the Author*
Revelation 2.1-7 - To the Ephesians*
Revelation 2.8-11 - To the Smyrnites*
Revelation 2.12-17 - To the Pergamites*
Revelation 2.18-29 - To the Thyatirans*
Revelation 3.1-6 - To the Sardisians*
Revelation 3.7-13 - To the Philadelphians*
Revelation 3.14-22 - To the Laodiceans*
Revelation 4 - "A throne standing in heaven"
Revelation 5 - "A Lamb standing, as if slain
Revelation 6 - The Seven Seals of World History
Revelation 7 - "Sealed for the day of redemption"
Revelation 8-9 - The Seven Trumpets of the Great Tribulation
Revelation 10-11 - The Little Scroll and the Two Witnesses
Revelation 12-13 - The Unholy Trinity
Revelation 14 - The Second Coming of Christ
Revelation 15-16 - The Seven Bowls of the Wrath of God
Revelation 17-18 - "Fallen is Babylon the great"
Revelation 19.1-16 - "Hallelujah!"
Revelation 19.17-20.15 - The Last Battle, the Millennium, and the Great White Throne
Revelation 21.1-22.5 - The New Heaven and the New Earth
Revelation 22.6-21 - "The Revelation of Jesus Christ"

*Note that the sermons on chapters 1-3 were preached on an earlier occasion, which accounts for some of the content overlap with the introductory message, and explains why these chapters were covered at a slower pace than the rest of the book.

September 5, 2012

A Lesson from the Ant

“Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers provision in harvest.” 
Proverbs 6.6-8

It’s a powerful little picture Solomon paints, is it not? Why aren’t ants hungry all winter long, buried beneath the cold, hard soil with no food to eat? Because they worked hard during the rest of the year – stripping, foraging, and storing away food! And we should go to them, Solomon says, and observe them, and be wise. How so? What do the ants have to teach us?

Among other things, they give us a warning against idleness. Again, the reason why the ants are not hungry in winter is because they are not idle in summer and fall! They’re busy! In fact, if you literally determine to go to the ants, you will find that this seems to be their hallmark. Brush back the edges of any ant-hill and you will find hundreds of the little fellows, crawling this way and that, always being productive.

Solomon says there is a lesson in that! Busy people succeed. Idle people struggle (see Proverbs 6.10). And that’s true on more than one level. It’s true, first of all, on the simple level of making ends meet. The ants have enough food because they work … hard. And the lesson is plain. We must work hard, too. We must be busy with our hands, making ends meet. And if we do not – if we are idle – we’ll suffer for it in our stomachs. That’s not to say that idleness is the only reason why people struggle financially. There are many reasons. Indeed, some of the hardest working people are forced to live from paycheck to paycheck. But the fact remains that, if we are lazy and sedentary, things will only be worse! Idleness causes hungry stomachs and empty bank accounts.

But idleness also causes suffering of a different kind. I think it is fair to say, after 12 years of pastoral counseling – both with Christians, and unbelievers – that a significant number of the sin problems people deal with would be largely solved if the persons in question had a little more responsibility on their plates. For instance, gossip is usually at its worst among people who have little else to do with their time (1 Tim 5.13). In addition, sinful fretting over this and that, and obsessions with what other people do or think, and bitterness over past hurts, all seem to lay down their deepest roots in the empty soil of long days with nothing productive to claim our time. Also, the people with the biggest substance abuse problems are often the same folks who have far too much time on their hands. Addiction to pornography and video games occurs most in young men who have all evening every evening to do a whole lot of nothing. Overeating is often largely a product of boredom. And the list could go on … proving the old adage that ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop.’ It’s an old adage because it’s true!

Does that mean that, if we’ll just get busy, all our sin habits will fade away? No! Our sin problems have, as their ultimate root, our sin natures … which will not disappear no matter how busy we may be. The busiest people in the world are still sinners. But they probably don’t have time to sit on the phone and talk bad about other people. They probably don’t have time to tool around for hours on the internet. And so, while their busyness in no way eradicates their sin nature, it certainly does give that nature less free time to work with!

So let us all consider the ants, and get busy. There are far too many people who need encouragement; far too many ministries that need helpers; far too many tongues, tribes, peoples, and nations that need praying for; and far too many Bible truths that need studying for any of us to spend too much time twiddling our thumbs! Let us redeem the time, therefore. We’ll get a good example if we “go to the ant”!