July 31, 2012

Reflections on Nine Years of Parenthood

I am writing these few lines on the 9th anniversary of becoming a father. OK, actually I became a father 9 months earlier than that, since babies are real, live human beings from the earliest moment of conception! But I first saw Julia’s face nine years ago today. I first began the day-in, day-out process of being a dad nine years ago today. It was 2:59 in the morning, on July 31st 2002, at Bethesda North Hospital, when almost everything changed for Tobey and I! And, all these glad years later, I’m both thankful for fatherhood … and reflective, too. What has God taught me these last 108 months? What has fatherhood meant to my life as a follower of Jesus? Four lessons come immediately to mind:

1. “Wretched man that I am.” I don’t know if Paul (who first penned those words) ever had any children. But I can attest that, while I could certainly echo Paul’s self-recrimination before I had children, I can do so all the more nine years in. Children are wonderful! But they are also challenging. They do not work on your schedule (especially when you’re type-A!). They require more time than you thought you had. They’re messy. They’re sometimes contrary. They are all, like their parents, born with a sin nature. And they seem to have a peculiar knack for pushing mom and dad’s buttons! And what does that leave a parent with? A window on his or her own soul! Without knowing it, children have a way of helping their parents see just how selfish we really are; just how impatient and petty we can sometimes be; just how wrapped up we are in our own routines, and desires, and preferences. Children, perhaps like no one else can do, show us what’s really inside – and it’s not always pretty, moms and dads. We desperately need a Savior! And I realize that more than ever nine years into fatherhood. “Wretched man that I am” … but “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7.24-25).

2. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” So says David in Psalm 103. And, wow, do our children help us understand this truth! How much do I love my kids? In spite of my sinfulness, more than I ever thought possible! I cannot imagine the thought of being without them. My heart grieves when I think that harm might befall them. I long to see them do well and walk with the Lord. And if I – sinful dad that I am – want that for my kids, how much more does my heavenly Father want it for me? Do you see the logic? “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” I have opportunity to understand that compassion a little better every time I hold one of my little ones in my arms, or give them a gift, or comfort them when they’re sad. And, O, what a glimpse of the Father’s love it gives me!

3. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Here’s another verse that I’ve always understood … but that makes a much deeper imprint on my soul now that I have kids of my own. I wouldn’t give up Julia, or Andrew, or Silas, or Sally, of Elisabeth for anyone! They are the most precious commodities in the world to Tobey and me! And if we love our children so much, how much more must God love His only begotten? Yet He delivered Him over for us all. He handed Him over to be mocked, and spat upon, and beaten, and crucified … for my sin! What a gift! It’s almost unthinkable. But that’s the measure of the Father’s love for sinners. He gave His Son for them! And now, having sons and daughters of my own, that fact plucks the strings of my heart much more firmly and sweetly than ever before!

4. “Children are a gift of the Lord.” Those words from Psalm 127 are so true. For all the reasons above – for what they teach us about ourselves, and about the Father’s love – children are a gift. For the opportunities they give us to laugh, and smile, and hope, and dream … children are a gift. The privilege of shaping their lives in the instruction of the Lord, every day for eighteen years, is a gift. The joy of pointing them to Jesus day after day after day is a gift! And after nine years of such opportunities (with many days of failure mixed in), I thank God for the gift of children and fatherhood, and for the light that both have shed on His word!

Special Occasion Sermons in July

July was a unique and happy month at PRBC.  We had a number of special occasions.  Below are the sermons connected with each event.  Enjoy!

July 8, Baptism Service
Luke 15.24 - When the Lost are Found

July 15, 50th Anniversary
Hebrews 13.8 - "Jesus Christ ... the same!"

July 29, send off for a seminary couple
Ezra 7.10 - Study, Practice, Teach

July 22, included just because!
Proverbs 4.18 - "Brighter and brighter"

July 24, 2012

I Waited Patiently for the Lord

I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.
Psalm 40.1

What a marvelous example David sets for us with those words! Clearly, he found himself in some difficulty. He felt as though his feet were bogged down in some “miry clay” (v.2). We don’t know exactly what the trial was. The rest of the psalm simply reveals, in fairly non-specific terms, that David was facing opposition of some sort – slander, hostility, and perhaps the threat of violence. It may even be, as was sometimes the case, that the mud was being slung from within his own family circle. Perhaps David also bore some of the blame for what was taking place (v.12). But, whatever the specific details, David found himself (v.1) feeling as though he were stuck in quicksand.

And yet, instead of flailing and kicking and just making things worse – as those trapped in quicksand proverbially do – David, instead, issued a “cry” to the Lord. He prayed in the midst of his struggle! That may sound obvious. But as with so many things that are obvious in the Bible, I'm not always so good at actually doing what David did. Perhaps you're not either.  ‘Of course we should pray when we’re in difficulty’ we say as we read Psalm 40.1. But how many times, when our own feet are in the quicksand, do we thrash instead of praying? How much energy do we sometimes expend, trying to get ourselves out of the problem, before we think to stop and pray for God’s help?

And when we do stop to pray, isn’t it often true that our prayers can quickly turn from talking to God to merely brainstorming more human solutions? We pace up and down the room, telling ourselves that we are praying. But really we’re mostly just rehashing the problem, and talking to ourselves a great deal more than to God. At least that’s what I find myself doing many times!  And yet God is still merciful to answer the bits and pieces of prayer I actually send up!

David, however, seems not to have been so distracted as me! When in trouble, David issued a “cry” to the Lord – and not a quick bottle-rocket prayer to salve his conscience before he began employing the solution he himself had already brainstormed. No! David didn’t simply pray God’s blessing on his own ideas, and then immediately get to work pulling himself out of the muck. He prayed … and then he “waited.” He asked God to get him out of the mess, and then he patiently sat by to see what God would do! And, O, we ought to learn from that!

Sometimes, of course, the difficulties we find ourselves in require immediate action and attention. If your child falls and cracks his head open, you say a quick prayer while you’re scooping him up in your arms … and then you immediately jump in the car and head to the emergency room, praying all the way. But many of our problems need not be dealt with quite that urgently. Therefore, many times, instead of praying about some problem, and immediately doing what we can toward solving it … we need to pray about the problem (perhaps with fasting!), and then keep praying about it – perhaps for a week, or two weeks, or a month – waiting to see what God will do. Perhaps God will reveal a course of action you would not have thought of if you’d acted more quickly. Perhaps your heart – or the heart of the person you’re praying about – will be more prepared for the appropriate solution after a season of prayer. Perhaps God will solve the problem without you actually having to do anything at all … if you will only wait for Him to do so!

So let Psalm 40.1 be your watchword when you find yourself in difficulty: “I waited patiently for the LORD.” If you do so in faith, it will not be long until you will also be able to say: “and He inclined to me and heard my cry.”

July 16, 2012

'I'll be Praying for You'

Those are marvelous words! Indeed, it is a marvelous privilege to be able to bear one another’s burdens, and to bring them, in Jesus’ name, right into the very throne room of heaven to be presented before the King’s feet! What a joy and an honor it is to intercede for one another in prayer!

But how many times do we tell someone, ‘I’ll be praying for you’ … and then find ourselves at home later that evening, thinking: ‘Now who was it I said I’d be praying for? And what did they ask me to pray about?’ It happens to me more often than I’d care to admit! Perhaps even more often than that, we promise to ‘be praying’ for someone … and never even remember that we promised! In fact, if we are not careful, the words ‘I’ll be praying for you’ can almost become as wrote and empty as ‘how are you doing?’. We say those words to people all the time, never expecting that they might actually care to tell us; and probably not really wanting to know! So, nowadays, ‘how are you doing?’ basically just means ‘hello’ in our modern vernacular. And I say that it is possible that, for some of us, ‘I’ll be praying for you’ has suffered similar erosion of meaning.

Do the words ‘I’ll be praying for you’ simply mean: ‘Boy, that’s a tight spot you’re in, and I feel for you?’ … or do they actually mean ‘I’ll be praying for you’? Perhaps this sounds over-simple, but it seems to me that, if I say ‘I’ll be praying for you,’ that ought to mean that I’ll actually be praying for you! As Christians, our ‘yes’ must be ‘yes’, and our ‘no’, ‘no’! More than that, people need us to actually pray for them, not just empathize! For, as comforting (and necessary!) as our listening ear may be to a friend in need, listening human ears cannot solve their problems. Only God can do that! And so we must be people of prayer!

And yet it is hard, many times, to remember to whom we’ve promised prayer! I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with this. So what can we do so that we might better be men and women of our word, and men and women of prayer? A few helpful hints …

1. Don’t promise prayer unless you really intend to do it. Best would be to promise and to pray! But if you’re not sure you’ll be serious about praying for such-and-such a request, or you don’t think you’ll remember, then just don’t promise. Better to pray without having promised than to promise and yet never pray!

2. Pray right now! The best way I know to avoid forgetfulness in prayer is, when someone passes along a prayer request, to stop and pray for them right then and there. This can be helpful in three ways. First, you won’t forget if you do it now! Second, the person you’re praying for is present to agree with you in prayer. Third, there is just something about hearing someone praying for you out loud that is really encouraging. So, instead of saying: ‘I’ll be praying for you,’ let’s learn to say: ‘Let’s just stop and pray right now!’

3. Write it down. Sometimes (though not usually) a prayer request may come in a hurried situation in which you cannot stop and ‘pray right now.’ In such cases, make yourself a note so you can come back to it later. I find the back of my hand to be a good place! I’ve never lost such a note yet! And many times I’ve been a better friend simply because I’ve written something down … and thus actually remembered!

At the end of the day, though – how and whenever you do it – the bottom line is simply: PRAY! God can do in one moment more than any of us can do with a whole lifetime of helping others. So pray for your co-workers, your family, your church family, your neighbors, your missionaries, and the homeless man you meet on the street – even when they don’t ask you to do so! But pray for them, especially, when you have promised ‘I’ll be praying for you.’

July 10, 2012

PRBC at 50!

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of our church.  Below are a few lines I composed for the occasion:

The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about birthdays, anniversaries, and the like. The Israelites had their yearly feast of Passover, of course … like we have our regular observances of the Lord’s Supper. But there is not much said about ten year anniversaries of this great event, or twenty-five year celebrations of that thing God did. One exception, however, was the year of jubilee – to be celebrated every fifty years, dating back to the year the Israelites came into the Land of Promise.

You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee. Leviticus 25.11

There was something special about the fiftieth year. In that year, the Israelites released their indentured servants from their debts and their servitude. In that year, every Hebrew returned to the parcel of ground which God had first given to his tribal and familial forefathers in the land of Canaan 50, 100, and 200 years since. In that year, no crops were sown, but the people lived off the provision from the prior harvest. It was, in short, the Sabbath of Sabbaths. After seven sets of seven years came this one year of remembering and rejoicing!

Now, of course, we are no longer operating under the same covenantal forms of governance as in ancient Israel. We do not live in the Land of Canaan. Nor do we have indentured servants who might need releasing. And most of us don’t own any farmland on which we might refrain from sowing crops. Therefore there is much about the Old Testament year of jubilee that does not apply to us. And yet, as we mark fifty years of the Lord’s faithfulness to Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, there is application to be made from Leviticus 25. Namely that …

Fifty years is a good distance from which to look backward at God’s faithfulness and salvation!

That is, essentially, what the Israelites were doing each time the jubilee came around. There were, of course, a number of divine purposes behind the year of jubilee. But perhaps most straightforward was that, by sending them all back to their original tribal allotments fifty years after their first entrance into the Land, God was reminding His people of all He’d done for them in that time span – of His bringing them across the Jordan River on dry ground; of His driving out from before them the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; of His lining out of their tribal allotments in Canaan; of His settling them in houses they had not built and with vineyards they had not planted, and so on. At fifty years, sufficient enough time had passed that the people could look back and say: ‘God really has done amazing things, hasn’t He? We weren’t sure how it was all going to pan out in those early days, but look how far the Lord has brought us!’

And we can look back and say similar things, can we not? Look at all that God has done for the many people who have worshipped Him on this

hilltop for these last five decades. Who knew, in 1962, how it all would turn out? Would this little band of believers survive as a church? Would they see God’s blessing? Well, at a distance of fifty years, we can surely say that the answer was ‘yes’! Every Lord’s Day, for 2600 weeks, the good news of Jesus has been heralded in this place! Scores of people have been converted to Christ through this church’s witness. God has quashed our enemy’s attacks, again and again, by the preaching of the word and the praising of His name on this hillside! Numerous children have been raised, by this congregation, in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and grown up to serve Jesus. Pastors have been raised up from this congregation. Missionaries have been sent out. And many of our beloved brothers and sisters have, in these last five decades, made safe landing in the harbor of heaven, helped along the way by the love, counsel, accountability, and truth poured into their lives by this family of believers. What reasons we have for jubilee!

Remember, too, that returning to the land and going over the memories wasn’t the only thing that the Israelites were to do during the fiftieth year. They were also to release their servants, and to cancel the arrears of their debtors! Why? As a reminder that they, too, had once been captives and debtors – both in Egypt, and to sin! But in the year of jubilee, when debts were cancelled and captives set free, God was reminding His people that they, too, had been released from sin’s captivity and debt! They, too, had been set free by the blood of a spotless Lamb! And what a good thing for us to fix our attention on at the end of fifty years atop this “pleasant ridge” – we once were lost, but now we’re found; were blind, but now we see! That’s worth remembering … and celebrating!

What has God done in your life these last fifty (or twenty, or ten, or two) years since you first sat down with these people in this place? There is no better time to thank Him than in this year of jubilee!

July 9, 2012

Sermon Series: Old Testament Names of Christ

Over the last several months, spread here and there, Allen Greene preached a series of five messages on "the Old Testament names of Christ."  In each message he looks at a prophecy of the coming Messiah, and helps us see how all the law and the prophets speak of Jesus!  Enjoy!

Isaiah 49.01-06 - The Servant of the Lord*
Genesis 49.8-12 - The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
Deuteronomy 18.15-19 - The Prophet
Daniel 7.13-14 - The Son of Man
Proverbs 30.1-4 - The Son of God

*Scripture quotations in the Isaiah 49 sermon are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.