December 30, 2013

Sermons on the Book of Acts

We've just completed a lengthy series of sermons, working our way all the way through the book of Acts.  Listen in with us ... and benefit from this great New Testament book!

Acts 1.1-8 - The Acts of the Apostles - mp3
Acts 1.9-26 - The Ascension, and After - mp3
Acts 2.1-40 - Pentecost  - mp3
Acts 2.41-47 - First Church, Jerusalem - mp3
Acts 3.1-10 - “In the name of Jesus Christ” - mp3
Acts 3.11-4.22 - “We cannot stop speaking” - mp3
Acts 4.23-31 - The Prayer Meeting - mp3
Acts 4.32-5.11 - Liberality … and Lying to the Holy Spirit - mp3
Acts 5.12-42 - A Beautiful Church - mp3
Acts 6.1-7 - The First Deacons - mp3
Acts 6.7-7.60 - “Stephen, full of grace and power” - mp3
Acts 8.1-4 - “Those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" - mp3
Acts 8.5-25 - The Gospel in Samaria - mp3
Acts 8.26-40 - A Divine Appointment - mp3
Acts 9.1-31 - Saul’s Conversion - mp3
Acts 9.31-43 - How the Gospel Spreads - mp3
Acts 10.1-11.18 - “The Gentiles also” - mp3
Acts 11.19-30 - Gospel Advance - mp3
Acts 12.1-25 - Persecution in Jerusalem - mp3
Acts 13.1-12 - A Paradigm for Missions - mp3
Acts 13.13-52 - A Sermon in the Synagogue - mp3
Acts 14.1-28 - Ups and Downs - mp3
Acts 15.1-41 - "Dissension and debate" - mp3
Acts 16.1-40 - The Gospel in Phillipi - mp3
Acts 17.1-15 - A Tale of Two Cities* - mp3
Acts 17.16-34 - "AN UNKNOWN GOD" - mp3
Acts 18.1-19a - The Gospel in Corinth - mp3
Acts 18.18-19.10 - The Gospel in Ephesus - mp3
Acts 19.11-20 - "Jesus whom Paul preaches" - mp3
Acts 19.21-41 - Artemis ... or Jesus? - mp3
Acts 20.1-16 - Many Miles, Many Partners, Many Words - mp3
Acts 20.17-38 - Last Words - mp3
Acts 21.1-20a - On to Jerusalem - mp3
Acts 21.17-22.30 - Troubles in Jerusalem - mp3
Acts 23.1-35 - The Council and the Conspiracy - mp3
Acts 24.1-27 - Paul and Felix - mp3
Acts 25.1-26.32 - "Before governors and kings" - mp3
Acts 27.1-28.15 - "You must stand before Caesar" - mp3
Acts 28.16-31 - "With all openness, unhindered" - mp3

*The title of this sermon is taken, of course, from Charles Dickens' novel of the same title.

December 26, 2013

Read the Bible in 2014

It’s that time of year again. Time for resolutions, and purging, and fresh starts, and new routines, and the like. Have you thought yet about how you might like 2014 to be different than the year that has now almost passed us by? More discipline, less calories, better habits, deeper relationships, and so on? There’s never a bad time, of course, to make such good changes. But the new year seems to afford as good an opportunity as any for such resolves. And I heartily encourage you to seize the momentum afforded by the changing calendar, and to make some of them yourself.

And as you do; as you make preparations for the new calendar year that is nearly upon us, I hope you have (or will) put your Bible intake at the very top of the list. Are you feeding, as regularly as you should be, on the manna of God’s word? It’s more important even than breakfast, lunch, or dinner! Remember that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4)! And if that is true; if the word of God is our very life’s sustenance … then we will do well to feed on it greedily. And in this age of widespread literacy and unprecedented access to the Scriptures (in every format imaginable!), we have every advantage towards doing so!

But will you do so … in 2014? I hope that, among other resolutions you may make for the new year, that at the top of the list will be:
A. To be as faithful as you can possibly be to hear the word of God as it is made available, week by week, in your local church.
B. To be as faithful as you can possibly be to read the word of God each and every day on your own, and in your family.
I cannot overstate the importance of letter A. But allow me to focus, with the remainder of this article, on letter B – your daily personal and family Bible reading. And let me especially zoom in on the personal.

Please do plan to read the Bible daily in 2014. And plan to read the Bible daily in 2014 according to a plan. For a remarkable list of diverse reading options, see Justin Taylor’s recent blog post “How to Read the Whole Bible in 2014.”  See also an excellent list by Ligonier.

Or, if you’re new at this; or if (like me) you don’t like humongous checklists hanging over your head, simply read a chapter a day in the New Testament, beginning in Matthew and continuing to Revelation. You’ll finish in 9 months or so, and have plenty of time to go back and delve deeper into a book or two that intrigued you, or to read through some of the more vital books of the Old Testament – Genesis, Exodus, Proverbs, etc.

Read two chapters a day (and three on Sunday) and you will make it through the New Testament three times in one year!

Or try what Jim Elliff has called “saturation” reading – working through a given book of the Bible over and over and over again – reading and re-reading the same book (perhaps for a few months) until it’s practically in your blood.  (HT: Challies)

Or create your own plan. But do have a plan. Do plan to be in the scriptures every day, looking for the manna that God has liberally laid upon the ground for you to gather day by day.

December 19, 2013

A Christmas Carol Pocket Dictionary

Have you ever been singing a song in church and thought: ‘I have no idea what I just sang’? ‘What is an Ebenezer anyway? And why would Mr. Robert Robinson have me singing about raising one?’ I think the experience is pretty common to us all, even with some of the songs that are often most familiar to us ... Christmas Carols. So I thought, as a sort of stocking-stuffer gift, I would present you with my version of Christmas Carol Pocket Dictionary. So …

What about … "Nowell"? Okay, maybe you prefer to spell it Noel. But either way, what does Noel mean? And why were the angels the first ones to sing it? Well, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary (via Wikipedia) Noel is an English version of a French word that comes from a Latin word that refers to birth. Got it? A little more simply, Noel is an old-fashioned way to refer to a baby being born. Through the ages, however, it has come to be used primarily to refer to the Baby being born. So the first Noel (the first announcement of the Savior’s birth) was made by angels to shepherds tending their sheep in the hillsides around Bethlehem. “The first Nowell the angel did say, was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.”

How about the line: “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n”? Was it really all that silent that night? Wouldn’t there have been a great deal of kicking and screaming and crying inside that little stable? That’s the way it was like last time I was in a maternity ward! And that is surely what it was like that night. So how can Phillips Brooks (O Little Town of Bethlehem) say that the gift of Jesus was given "silently"? Good question. Answer? I am not sure that, by “silently”, Brooks is referring to the actual birth itself. Rather, I think he may be reminding us that Jesus was born in a little backwater town in a downtrodden country, on the backside of nowhere. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the King of kings’ birth was completely unnoticed. In the grand scheme of things, Jesus came into the world rather quietly. And so, often, does the individual’s salvation. Brooks goes on to say in the next line: “So (in the same way in which Jesus came) God imparts to human hearts the blessing of His heav’n” … that is, silently. Most conversions to Christ do not happen with great pomp and circumstance. They are not written up in the papers. They do not usually come with all sorts of outward commotion. Quietly, humbly, unassumingly (in the same ways Jesus came to us), we come to Him.

Silent night”? As we already said, it seems unlikely. But what Joseph Mohr is probably referring to is the calm after the storm of birth. As the shepherds walked into that stable, they probably saw an exhausted but happy woman, quietly holding her precious, sweet, sleeping little boy. I've seen this in the maternity ward, too! What a picture of the peace that God gives to us through Jesus!

One final noise-related line: “Little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” I think I have to agree with one of my seminary professors here – and say that I am not sure we can say this is true! As he pointed out in reference to this song, Jesus was in fact a real, live baby ... and so it would be fair to assume that He cried just like other real, live babies. Perhaps the anonymous author of Away in a Manger said “no crying He makes” because He thought that Jesus, as very God of very God, would not need to do such a thing. But let’s remember that Jesus was a real baby boy, too. So, though (as the sinless one) He surely never joined in the whining, demanding kind of crying that all other children begin assaulting their parents with at an early age … He probably did cry when He was hungry, or in pain, or cold. So maybe some poetic person out there can think of a better way to end the sentence, “The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes…”. Any suggestions?

One more example to put on your Christmas crib sheet (pun intended): “Gloria in excelsis Deo”. This is simply the old Latin way to say “Glory to God in the highest” – Gloria (glory) in excelsis (in the highest) Deo (God). That is what the angels sang in Luke 2.14. Whether it was in Latin, there is some doubt! But I hope – whether in Latin, or in English – you find yourself singing, and saying, and feeling this truth over the next few days! “Glory to God in the highest.” 

And merry Christmas!

December 10, 2013

"The storehouses of the snow"

The book of Job is, on many different levels, a fascinating read. It gives us keen insights into the sovereignty of God, the suffering of mankind, and the work (and limitations) of the devil … as well as providing some very helpful do’s and don’ts of true Christian friendship. Furthermore, the final chapters are an incredible series of reminders as to just how small we human beings are; just how little we know in comparison to our omniscient, omnipotent, omni-competent God. God asks Job such questions as:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”
“Have you ever in your life commanded the morning?”
“Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth?”
“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow?”
The purpose of such questions, of course, is to humble Job; to remind him that he is not God, and that his questioning of the Almighty has been out of place, and has been done in far more ignorance than Job has, thus far, been willing to credit to his own account. Job is not God! And if we read the final five chapters of the book, we will be reminded that neither are we!

God sees – and controls – things that happen on the tops of craggy cliffs, and at the bottom of ocean deeps, that human eyes rarely see. He keeps all the stars fixed in their constellations, and the planets in their orbits. And yes, He is the one who sends the snow … how, we don’t really understand. We haven’t entered into its storehouses!

Well, Job certainly hadn’t, anyway. But we might read the book of Job, all these centuries later, and think: ‘Well, today, there are people who actually do “know the time the mountain goats give birth.” And there are meteorologists who, by means of their equipment and scientific acumen, actually have, in a manner of speaking, “entered the storehouses of the snow.” So maybe we have caught up with God. Maybe mankind is not so small as the book of Job makes him out to be.’

Well, there certainly are people today who understand God’s world to a much greater extent than Job could have done. Such are the advances that science, plus technology, plus time have afforded us. And we’re thankful for these things, in many ways. But, because meteorologists can now explain the origin of all the winter white we have seen in the last few days, does that mean we are catching up with God? That maybe the final chapters of Job ought no longer make us feel as small as they might once have done? I think not.

So a select few individuals, with lots of study and expensive technology, can explain and even predict the coming of the snow. That’s impressive, I’ll admit … and really quite fascinating (and, indeed, very helpful when your family is travelling on a winter storm weekend!). But, for all our understanding of the snow, humankind can still do absolutely nothing to control it, or curtail it, or confine it. We’re still not God, even if we understand His working a lot better than we once did!

Furthermore, the meteorological insights that have been gained into “the storehouses of the snow” reveal that the process of snow making is even a lot more complicated than God lets on in Job 38.22. “The storehouses of the snow” are not just simple barns, set up in the heavens, with remote control doors ready to open at God’s command. No! They are actually gigantic meteorological engines, engaged in a process that (best I can tell) seems to involve such various cogwheels as the jet stream, and air pressure, and surface temperature, and temperature aloft, and moisture, and perhaps a handful of other factors that normal people like me don’t really understand! So, by figuring out where the snow comes from; by entering into its storehouses, mankind hasn’t actually demystified the power of God, but simply realized that His working is actually far more intricate and complex than we might have before recognized!

That is the wonder of all true science, in fact. Scientific enquiry and discovery do not render God obsolete, because now we supposedly have the real explanation for things that the men and women of Job’s day did not understand (and thus blindly ascribed to the idea of ‘God’). No! The more we discover about how the world works, the more we realize just how big God must be … because the processes He uses to create the snow, or to bring the baby mountain goats to birth, are far more complex than we might have otherwise dreamed! And complexity – even complexity that human beings have finally (in measure) figured out – speaks to an even greater God than we might have otherwise dreamed. So praise God for science! And praise God for the snow of recent days! Both of them, if we see aright, tell us that God is great … and that we, even with all our discovery, are still small.

December 3, 2013

10 Reasons to Give to World Missions

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® – which supports our missionaries who leave homes, jobs, and family; and who go to remote places to bring the good news of Jesus to lost and dying people – is in full swing. So let me give you ten reasons, which I have shared before, why I love the Lottie Moon offering, and why every Christian should support the cause of world missions. We should all give to world missions because:

1. Knowing Jesus Christ is the only pathway to God. Jesus said that “no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14.6). “No one” will be saved without Jesus … including those our missionaries work to reach.

2. There are over 7,000 unreached people groups in the world today, comprising 2.91 billion (with a ‘B’) souls (according to The Joshua Project). In other words, over 40% of the world’s populous lives in regions where there is little or no chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10.14)? And how will there be a preacher if we do not support missionaries?

3. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” says Jesus in Matthew 9.37-38. And it seems only right, doesn’t it, that if we are going to ask God to send missionaries, we should be willing to support them.

4. God has blessed us so we can bless the nations with Jesus. There’s a reason why God made you and me Christians in America: so that we’d have more money than most of the world … to sink into missionary purposes! “God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him” (Psalm 67.7)!

5. If we neglect God’s work, moths will eat our money! Not literally, perhaps … but money has a way of disappearing when God’s people use it unwisely. Therefore … “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matthew 6.20).

6. Missions is a fool-proof investment. God promises that people “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” will worship Jesus in heaven (Revelation 7.9). The task will be accomplished, and therefore your money will not be wasted! More than we can say for Wall Street!

7. Sacrificial giving is rewarded. When we give greatly to something greatly worthwhile, God returns our generosity with joy, and often with more resources for more generosity! “He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9.6)!

8. We are Christians because someone supported a missionary. Most of us have our ethnic roots in Europe and Africa, a few in S. America or Asia. Guess how the gospel got to many of these places? A missionary came with a Bible under his arm and a prayerful, generous support team in his homeland! Let’s make sure many more missionaries arrive in many more places with Bibles under their arms and generous support teams back home!

9. Our missionaries are worthy of our support. Most of our missionaries are away from family, some with little Christian fellowship, often in danger, yet serving the Lord faithfully in the middle of nowhere. That is why John said “we ought to support such men” (3 John 8).

10. God is worthy of the worship of the nations! Ultimately, we support missions because God is worthy of being made famous! People from every tribe and tongue ought to worship Him! The missionary task, therefore, is to win the multitudes to Jesus so that God’s praises will be sung as loudly as they ought to be sung! Here are God’s missionary marching orders: “Bring my sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory” (Isaiah 43.6-7)!

May God give us grace, once again this Christmas, to invest in His glory among the nations!