December 27, 2014

New Habits for a New Year

I have written before how much I love the New Year. Ever since I was a boy with my Atari 2600, I’ve loved hitting the reset button and starting fresh! Advancing years and more maturity have shown me that it is not always possible (or even desirable) to do so. But I still love this time of year when there is this seasonal impetus to start over, and make fresh plans, and do differently!

And so, in that spirit, allow me to suggest to you four areas in which you might hit the reset button in your life as the calendar changes in just a few days. Perhaps for you it might not even be a reset, but the booting up of a whole new machine! But either way, here are four habits I encourage you to take up in the new year (and even today!) …

1. Plan to read the Bible. We all say we want to read the Bible, but I know from personal experience that want-to doesn’t always translate to action unless we have a real plan. So take up a Bible reading plan beginning January 1.
  • The New Testament in a year, 1 chapter a day.
  • The Old Testament in a year, 2 chapters a day.
  • The Bible in a year, using one of several plans that can be found (and often read) online.

2. Devote yourself to family devotions. Make it a regular habit to gather together with spouse and children to read a passage from the Bible, talk about briefly about how it applies, pray together, and sing. You might work your way (more slowly than the plans mentioned above) through books like Genesis, Exodus, Matthew, John, Romans, and Ephesians. 15 minutes a day will bless your whole family … for years (perhaps generations) to come!

3. “Remember the sabbath.” God meant what He said when He commanded us to take a day off every week (and to give those who serve us a day off, too, Exodus 20:8-11). He meant what He said when He taught us to set aside that day, even from our normal recreations (Isaiah 58:13-14), so that we might have time for uninterrupted delighting in Him. It’s what is best for us! It is good! And it is a key test of whether we are willing to trust God’s word, or think ourselves wiser than it. So give yourself the treasure of a whole day, every week, for rest and worship and delight in the things of God. I promise you won’t regret it, or lack any good thing by cutting your work and chore and shopping week short by a day!

4. Get yourself a missions piggy bank. We are just finishing off our annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® for international missions – a chance to give Jesus a Christmas present of His own (so to speak), by supporting His missionaries. Some of you have perhaps given part of your Christmas bonus, or of your gift-giving budget. And God will reward that! But perhaps you thought to yourself: ‘Boy, I’d have liked to have given more.’ Well, next year you can – if you’ll get a piggy bank, or a coffee can, or a little gift box … and fill it up all year round with money for missions. $20 per monthly paycheck would mean an additional $240 for missions next December. And $50 per month would be $600! So get a little container, and make Lottie Moon a part of your regular monthly budget. Again, you won’t regret it!

So there are four new (or renewed) habits for 2015. They’re all quite simple, and well within the grasp of nearly everyone who reads these words. Take them up in the New Year, and the rewards will be such that no piggy bank will be able to hold them!

December 24, 2014

George Herbert's "Christmas" (1633)

What a quote from George Herbert's poem entitled Christmas (courtesy ccel.org):

O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in nights mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is thy right,
To Man of all beasts be not thou a stranger:

Furnish & deck my soul, that thou mayst have
A better lodging then a rack or grave.

Thanks for pointing this out, Justin!


December 23, 2014

2014 Christmas Poem: Good News, Great Joy for People All

I've just completed this year's Christmas poem ... to be read, Lord willing, at our worship gathering tomorrow night.  Read it below the page break, or download the Word document and/or the mp3.

And here's a link to the whole collection of Christmas poems, from 2002 until now.


Read the Christmas Story Aloud

Hello all.  Many of you will be gathering with friends and family this Christmas ... and will sit down together at some point to read the scriptures about our Lord's birth, and perhaps to sing about it, too.  After the page break below is a compilation of scripture passages that I have prepared to help you do just that --  beginning in Genesis 1, and moving all the way through the familiar nativity passages ... and beyond.  Periodically I have also inserted the title of a suggested hymn that might be sung here or there, to break up the reading and help give voice to your worship.

Feel free to copy, paste, forward ... and most of all use.  Scripture is taken from the King James Version.

December 22, 2014

Christmas Poems

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 of the incarnation. 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
2014 - Good News, Great Joy for People All - Read - Listen

Christmas Sermons

Here are three Christmas sermons from the last 3 weeks.  Enjoy!

Luke 2.22-38 - Looking for the consolation of Israel" - mp3
Various Texts - Humility ... From the Manger to the Grave - mp3
Luke 2.1-20 - "Mary treasured all these things" - mp3

December 19, 2014

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon

Yesterday I posted the trailer for a documentary about the greatest English-speaking preacher of the TWENTIETH century.  Today, a link to a brand new documentary on the greatest English speaking preacher of the NINETEENTH century (and maybe of all time).

December 18, 2014

Logic On Fire

Check out the trailer for the forthcoming documentary on the greatest English-speaking preacher of the 20th century.


December 17, 2014

Sermons from Matthew 26-28

We just completed a series of message from the final three chapters of Matthew's gospel.  Listen in!

Matthew 26.1-5 - "The Son of Man is to be handed over" - mp3
Matthew 26.6-16 - How much is Jesus worth? - mp3
Matthew 26.17-30 - The Last Supper - mp3
Matthew 26.31-56 - "Grieved and distressed" ... yet resolute - mp3
Matthew 26.57-68 - On Trial before Caiaphas - mp3
Matthew 26.69-75 - Peter's Denials - mp3
Matthew 27.1-10 - Judas's Sad End - mp3
Matthew 27.11-26 - Pilate, the Crowds, Barabbas, and Jesus - mp3
Matthew 27.27-44 - Mocked and crucified ... "as it is written" - mp3
Matthew 27.45-54 - "Why have You forsaken Me?" - mp3
Matthew 27.55-66 - The Burial - mp3
Matthew 28.1-17 - "He has risen" - mp3
Matthew 28.18-20 - Go!- mp3

December 16, 2014

"The government will rest on His shoulders"

Here is one of the great promises spoken of the Child that Isaiah prophesied that would be born to God’s people (Isaiah 9.2-7); of the baby of Bethlehem; of the One whose name would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” – “the government will rest on His shoulders.”

We can perhaps see why some of Jesus’ contemporaries might have expected Him to overthrow Rome. After all, wasn’t the Messiah coming to take the government upon His own broad back, and to rule righteously upon the earth? Yes! That’s why Isaiah said “a child will be born to us” and “a son will be given to us” – in order that this Child might reign as King. That He might govern in the place of wicked men, and do so righteously!

And yet here we are, nearly two thousand years on from the manger at Bethlehem … and the world’s governments generally seem no closer to coming under the rule of King Jesus than they did when Herod was slaughtering innocent children in Bethlehem. Still we groan when we look at much of what goes on in the name of the state. And if we groan, in free America, where we still cling to so many blessings even in the realm of our government … what about our brothers and sisters scattered abroad in lands where the princes have already travelled much further down the atheistic road that our nation seems committed to follow? And what about our Christian family in lands of deep corruption? And persecution? Surely they know what it is to be “weary and heavy-laden” … even under the very government systems in which they live.

But what do we do? We can murmur about these things, and pat each other on the back as we commiserate together about how frustrating things can sometimes be … which really does precious little good (and violates the law of God, Ex. 22.28, Eph. 4.29). And we should work toward better, more godly, more faithful government … which will have some benefit for us all (even for those who do not hold to our faith).

But as we look out on the dark clouds that seem to gather ever more quickly on the governmental horizon, it seems to me (perhaps especially at Christmastime) that, most of all, we should leaf back through the pages of the prophets, and trek back to the feed trough at Bethlehem … where our ultimate hope lay in swaddling clothes, poised to save us all.

It’s true He did not come, that first time round, to establish an earthly kingdom … but to rule in the hearts of men, women, and children from every kingdom and tribe; to call to Himself servants from among every fiefdom on the planet (including many of their leaders, praise God!).  But He is coming again! And when He does, then the very government itself "will rest on His shoulders.” And His subjects will gladly follow His good rule! And there will be no more debates about the sanctity of human life; and no more racism, or criminality, or corruption of any kind! There will be no more unfulfilled promises, no more lies, no more laziness or grasping for power! For Father, Son, and Spirit will reign all by themselves ... and with wisdom, and equity, and benevolence, and grace! “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb … The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra … [and] They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain.”

That is the promise of the babe in the manger! That is the promise of Christmas. Remember it this season, and take heart. “The government will rest upon His shoulders.”

December 15, 2014

Missions Week Sermons

Here are the sermons from our recently completed Missions Week.  Listen in ... and be encouraged to give, pray, and go for the fame of Jesus among the nations.

3 John 5-8 - Give! - mp3
2 Thessalonians 3.1-2 - Pray! - mp3
Matthew 28.18-20 - Go! - mp3

December 11, 2014

A couple of resources for missionary prayer

We thought about prayer last night at PRBC - specifically Paul's plea that we pray for the missionaries (2 Thessalonians 3.1-2).  Toward the end, I mentioned two specific resources that might be of great help to God's people in doing so.  Check them out for yourself:

Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation
by Jason Mandryk

Available for free ... in paper or electronic format

December 9, 2014

7 Reasons to Give to World Missions

As we continue our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®, I thought it might be helpful to reiterate some biblical reasons why we should be encouraged to give. Four of them will be review from Sunday’s sermon. And one of them is not so that we can light up all the bulbs on our Christmas wreath (a happy reason, but not necessarily a biblical one). But there are some very good and biblical reasons to support our missionaries, light bulbs or no! Here they are:

1. Because we simply want to be faithful to our Father. God’s heart is for the nations – that He might receive glory among every tribe and tongue. This is the great mission that He is on about in the world. And, as when we saw our earthly dads fixing the car or planting a garden in our younger years, it ought to be our eager delight to say: ‘Father, can I help? Can I pitch in?’ Our involvement in the Father’s plan of world evangelization, and our support of those who go out, is simply a matter of faithfulness! “You are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren” (3 John 5).

2. Because … who else will support our missionaries? John describes certain traveling preachers in his own day as “accepting nothing from the Gentiles” (3 John 7); receiving no support from the unbelieving world. And John’s conclusion (v.8) is that the church “ought to support such men.” And so it is today. Our missionaries are not usually on the payroll of some wealthy corporation or benefactor. They’re on ours. And so if we don’t support them, who will?

3. Because … how will the nations be saved without preachers? Yes, God can save anybody He wants. And He doesn’t need human means. But He has ordained that he almost always works through them! And, as to the salvation of perishing souls, here is the logic of the New Testament: “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). A good question, no? How are all these tribes and tongues going to come to worship Jesus unless someone tells them about Jesus? And how will anyone tell them, Paul goes on to ask in v.15, “unless they are sent?” And how can we send them, I ask, unless we give monetarily to their support?

4. Because there is reward in missionary support. “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). And how do you do so? Well, Paul spoke of people won to Christ as his “joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). And surely this will be one of the greatest rewards of heaven – people who will be there worshipping around the throne because we prayed, or gave, or shared Christ. That’s reason to give! And so is the “well done” that the Lord will speak to those who invest their earthly treasures well (Luke 19:11-27).

5. Because giving puts us on the mission field, by proxy. “We ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 8). So, if you give to a missionary in Thailand, you are joining with him in the work there, by means of this emissary you’ve helped to send out. You are doing missions, too … even when it is simply by means of the offering plate!

6. For the sake of the second coming of Christ. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). So there is work to do before Jesus comes again – the work of preaching the gospel among all the peoples. So let’s support those who are out there getting it done – yes, for the sake of those peoples … but also for the sake of the coming of Christ, which we are taught to hasten (2 Peter 3:12).

7. Because we want to see the name of Jesus made famous. The preachers spoken of in 3 John “went out for the sake of the Name” (v.7). They went out, not simply to rescue poor, dying sinners (though they did do that). They went out, not simply to make the world a better place (though that does happen where the gospel is preached and believed). But the way John describes them, specifically, is going out “for the sake of the Name”; so that they might, in other words, make the name of Jesus famous! So that the peoples and tribes would sing that Name, and rejoice in that Name, and preach that Name, and do good in that Name. So that the name of Jesus would become the most precious word in every one of the languages into which it enters! And that, dear friends, is reason to empty our pockets for the cause of world missions!

December 2, 2014

Light Bulbs for Lottie Moon

You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Philippians 4.15-16

These are the words of a grateful missionary. Paul was out in the far reaches of the earth, preaching and praying and loving the people with all the strength that God would give him. But he knew that he was desperately dependent on those back home who supported him financially. There were times when he didn’t have that support, so he had to work a secular job to keep himself afloat. But there was this one church—the church at Philippi—which he knew he could count on. There was this one church that, when everyone else seemed to forget about the missionaries, didn’t forget. There was this one church that, again and again, sent Paul supplies and monetary support. So Paul’s letter to the Philippians is, in large measure, a thank you note.

Wouldn’t it be gratifying to get a letter like that from someone so committed to and successful in missionary endeavors as Paul? Wouldn’t it be gratifying to know that your giving was leading to the conversion of precious souls in some far-off corner of the globe? Just think about how many people came into the kingdom because the Philippians’ financial support enabled Paul to devote himself to full-time ministry! When you think of it like that, giving to missions becomes very exciting!

This is what I hope our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® (100% of which supports our Southern Baptist international missionaries) is for our congregation—exciting! One of my most prized childhood memories is the Lottie Moon® offering in our church. I didn’t know who Lottie Moon was. I didn’t really know how all the money was gathered and disbursed. But somehow this money was going to help people hear about Jesus. And the church folks seemed to be excited about it!

We collected our offering throughout the month of December … and every year we had a church-wide goal—let’s say $2000. On the wall, just to the left of the baptistery, there would be a Christmas wreath with ten big Christmas light-bulbs on it. Each bulb represented $200. For every $200 dollars that came in, another light would be lit up. So every week through advent season, it was a delight to arrive in the church auditorium to see how many lights were lit up this Sunday. And I think many of the adults enjoyed it as much as us kids. Giving to missions was fun! I can assure you, I look back with much more joy on that Lottie Moon wreath than on any Christmas present I ever got. More importantly, in heaven I’ll rejoice more in those $200 light bulbs than in all my earthly possessions put together!

What about you? Do you love the cause of world missions? Do you get excited about being a part of it through “giving and receiving”? Is the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®; (or your church's equivalent) fun for you? You don’t need a wreath to make it so. You don’t need light bulbs, either. You just need a Philippian heart. You need an eternal perspective on your money. You need a compassion for souls and a passion for the fame of Jesus. Then giving to missions will be a delight! And the more you give, the more delightful!