Wednesday, December 31, 2008

“Press on toward the goal”

The end of another year often is a time when people resolve to make some change or improvement about themselves in the coming year. Generally, I do not make resolutions because, like many of you, I fail to follow through on them. Nevertheless, the beginning of a new year does seem to be the perfect time to endeavor to make a fresh start, to try to do better, to move forward and make progress in life.

As Christians, we know that deep and lasting change is only possible through the work of the Spirit of Christ within. With that in mind, may I suggest we ask the Lord’s help, as we leave 2008 and look ahead to 2009, to be faithful in doing that which the apostle Paul did:

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

We can’t redo yesterday, however, we can do something about tomorrow. In the strength of the Lord, “press on toward the goal” of becoming more like Christ in 2009.

May God bless you and yours in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bible Reading Plans

Justin Taylor recommends a few Bible reading plans to help us in the New Year establish and maintain a daily discipline of Bible reading. Let’s resolve, with God’s help, to spend some time in God’s Word every day in 2009.

A matter of life or death

Since I’m home on Winter Break, I thought I would take the time to read Dr. Al Mohler’s book, He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008). I’m impressed by what I’ve read so far. In fact, I would even suggest that He Is Not Silent is an important book that deserves wide exposure within Evangelicalism. Personally, I wish every evangelical pastor would read and heed what Dr. Mohler has written.

Today, I was reading chapter 3 (“Preaching Is Expository: A Theology of Exposition”). At one point, after quoting Deuteronomy 4:32-40 and writing briefly about the historical setting of this passage, Mohler writes the following (p. 54):

Notice that even as it is a book of preparation, the book of Deuteronomy is not primarily a military briefing. It is not primarily about demographics and geography. Above all, it is about the Word of God. It is about the fact that God has spoken, and His people need to be ready to hear Him and obey. The intensity here is enormous, because the necessity of obedience is a matter of survival for Israel. You see, the entire theology of Deuteronomy comes down to the fact that God has spoken. Thus hearing and obeying is life, but refusing to hear and disobeying is death. Moses wants the people of Israel to know that life and death hang in the balance of their willingness to hear God’s Word and respond to it. It is a matter of life or death.

I believe that the central problem in our crisis of preaching today is that somehow we believe this has changed. We no longer believe that hearing and responding to the Word of God is a matter of crucial importance. That is the only plausible reason I can offer for why expositional preaching is in decline, or even absent, in so many pulpits. Before the decline in expository preaching, there was the abandonment of the conviction that the Word of God comes as a matter of life and death.

From where I stand, it sure seems to me that what Mohler writes here is very true. There really does seem to be a famine of “hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11) in the church in the West. I’m not a pastor and I have no pulpit from which to regularly preach but, the Lord being my Helper, I’m willing to do what I can to remedy this situation. And the first thing I can do is recommend that you get He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World and read it. If possible, buy an extra copy and give it to your pastor.

The second thing you and I can do is heed the message in the paragraphs I quoted above. The importance of hearing and responding to the Word of God relates to more than just preaching. It means you and I must be diligent to read and study God’s Word for ourselves, and respond with obedience in our daily lives. May God help us to be faithful.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gloria In Excelsis

Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.

O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.

For Thou only art holy; Thou only art the Lord; Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father.

(from the Book of Common Prayer, 1662)

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled:
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With th’angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

—Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Joy to the World

Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns:
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

—Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

“Woe to me...”

This morning I was looking at the table of contents of Dr. Al Mohler’s book, He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008), with the thought of possibly reading it while I’m at home on Winter Break.

Pastor James MacDonald’s comments on the flyleaf stung me:

“I preach because nothing else can satisfy the urgency and passion that God has ignited in my heart for His truth and His people. The same should be true for you. If you can go sell cars or shuffle stocks instead of being a pastor and preacher of God’s Word, then go do that.”

I agree with the sentiment Pastor MacDonald expresses. Yet, I’m not a pastor and the opportunities to preach are rare.

After all these years, it sometimes seems like a dream or fantasy. But, it wasn’t a dream and I didn’t imagine it. Over nineteen-and-a-half years ago, God called me to preach His Word and shepherd His people. I didn’t choose this; the burden was laid on me. After all these years, I still feel that burden.

And, like MacDonald implies, nothing else has satisfied me. Nothing. That’s why his comment stung. For what does one do when all the doors have closed? “If you can go sell cars or shuffle stocks instead of being a pastor and preacher of God’s Word, then go do that.” I agree. And yet, I wish it were that simple.

The fact is I also have a responsibility, before God, to provide for the family God has given to me. 1 Timothy 5:8 is clear: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10 is equally clear: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”

So, I work…doing something else besides being a pastor and preacher of God’s Word. In 1 Corinthians 9:16, I find where the apostle Paul wrote, “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” I think I understand what Paul meant.

And, it hurts so much.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Arminian Problem

Phil Johnson says,

“The more sensible option—and the biblical one—would be to abandon Arminian presuppositions and acknowledge that God declared the end from the beginning, and that He works all things according to the counsel of His own will.”

Read more, here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

“Yes, I Know Jesus”

One evening a few weeks ago, Catherine, my wife, was trying out the video feature on her digital camera and recorded me playing a couple pieces on the piano at home. The other day, I decided to post these videoclips on YouTube. Below is the clip of me playing the gospel song, “Yes, I Know Jesus”.

This song is very simple, expressing a couple simple truths: I know Jesus and He’s done so much for me. I wish you could hear a choir singing along (you can find a few choir renditions on YouTube, if you search around a bit). In lieu of a choir, here are the lyrics:

Yes, I know Jesus,
Yes, I know Jesus,
Yes, I know Jesus for myself.
Woke me up this morning,
Saw a brand new dawning,
Feeds me when I'm hungry,
Comforts me when I’m lonely.
Yes, I know Jesus,
Yes, I know Jesus,
Yes, I know Jesus for myself.

Yes, I know Him for myself,
And He’ll do just what He said…
Yes, I know Jesus,
Yes, I know Jesus,
Yes, I know Jesus for myself.

What is implied here is that you, the listener, should get to know Jesus, too. As the “old folks” used to say, “You gotta know the Lord for yourself!” Why? Not because He is so good (and He is!). That’s just a bonus. The reason you and I need to know Jesus is because you and I need Him! God is holy and we are not. We have rebelled against God. We are sinners. As sinners, we deserve and have earned God's condemnation, but God gave His Son to be the Savior of all who will trust in Him. As the Bible puts it: “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

By the grace of God, I know Jesus. He has become my Savior, and He is my Lord. Do you know Him? Will you trust Him?