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:

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!