Saturday, June 30, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere (June 30, 2012)

Each week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week reading a few of them. I have taken the time to link to some of my favorite blog posts from around the blogosphere from the previous week. I hope maybe one or two of these stores will be an encouragement to you.
  • Thoughts After the Culmination of the Resolved Conference by Rick Holland. The Resolved Conference has seen its end. I feel like I have missed a little something as I never took the time to attend it. But I have listened to many sermons and have been impacted by each of those men in ways most of them would have no idea.
  • If Christ is True, Then Boredom is a Sin by Jared C. Wilson. This is a very interesting thought that Wilson says from his new book, Gospel Deeps. These quotes alone make me want to purchase and read it. He says, "when we are bored, it can only be because we have stopped looking at Jesus."
  • Sexual Design Lectures and Gay Protestors by Justin Taylor. It was here that I found out about Doug Wilson's lectures at Indiana University that turned out to be very intolerant, to say the least. If you have a few hours and want to hear a couple decent lectures and see a man respond with grace upon grace, check it out.

Friday, June 29, 2012

How I Will Respond To Obamacare

Yesterday we all experienced a landmark decision by the Supreme Court on the issue of healthcare. Now, I want to be very clear in this blog post, I probably do not fully understand all of the ramifications of this decision to uphold the President's decision on healthcare. I have only watched a bit of news and have read a few articles on it. Is it unconstitutional? Is it masking taxes? I don't know for sure (I have opinions), but I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not a politician. I will vote for certain things because I think it is my constitutional right, my American right. I do not vote for things necessarily because I think it is my Christian right. Now, my Christian values and how God has changed me because of the gospel, certainly influences my views of morality when it comes to voting. But it also changes the way I look at government as a big picture. It helps me formulate a response to things that I do not necessarily like. It helps me respond to things like Obamacare. What shapes my thinking on this? Three main passages of Scripture:
"The kings heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will." (Proverbs 21:1) 
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." (Romans 13:1-2) 
"For in Him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority." (Colossians 2:9-10)
God is still in control. Even though I might not like it, I acknowledge that God has a plan. I live my life with the thought that President Obama would not be in power if God did not want him in power. He is simply a man that has been instituted for a specific reason for which I do not know. 

Please note: I am NOT saying that he is a godly man. I am NOT saying that this is a godly decision. What I am saying is that his presidency and this decision on healthcare did not surprise God and it would not have happened if God had not allowed it to happen. God knew how the vote of the Supreme Court would turn out. He knows the future. So, how will I respond? With continued confidence in a God that is still on the throne. Christian, how do you respond?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I'm Too Busy To ___________.

The past several weeks have been really busy for me and my family. We have had people staying at our house 16 of the last 20 days. We have had an associate pastor candidate come spend the weekend with us as he checked out our church and we checked him out. We are in the middle of VBS week (which my wife leads). On top of all of that, we have had baseball almost every night of the week and on Saturdays. It has been a really crazy season of our life.

The busyness of my schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. As a Christian, it has made me think recently as to what gives when my schedule gets busy. What am I too busy to do? Or how would I finish this sentence, "I'm too busy to ____________." Here are some options of things that sometimes go by the wayside when my schedule get too busy. Maybe these are some of yours as well.

I'm too busy to read my Bible and pray.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this from different people. I cannot tell you how many times I have thought this myself. In the midst of a really busy season, it is so easy to let personal Bible study and prayer slip off the radar. I know I have heard this many times by many people. I have asked them how their time in the Word has been and they respond, "Oh, I've just been so busy, I haven't had time to read the Bible." Or sometimes people claim that they have no time to get up early in the morning to spend time praying to their heavenly Father that they claim they love. Martin Luther once said,
"If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer."
Can you imagine what it would be like if your schedule was so busy one day that you forced yourself to get up an hour earlier so you could spend more time in prayer? This is what energizes your soul. I would argue that you are too busy to NOT spend time reading your Bible and praying. You need that more than anything else.

I'm too busy to go to church.
At some points in our lives, we feel like we just need a day off. I'm not saying that vacations are bad (I'm actually looking forward to one in a few weeks). What I am saying is that there is an attitude that church is optional and if things are really busy, I will just take the week off. After all, it might be the only off day that you have.

I'm too busy to share the gospel.
I think it is possible that we become so consumed with so many things that we often forget the main thing. We are here to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to people. I have been convicted in my life that often times, my busyness, which I say is relationship building, never leads to gospel conversations. It just leads to baseball conversations. Building conversations. But not Jesus conversations. When confronted with that, the temptation for me is to think that I will get to it when there is time. I'm too busy right now to engage in full conversations.

There are many other things that I have thought and have heard from others. What are you too busy to do? For me? I think this past week finally caught up to me. I think I have been too busy to write good engaging blog posts. I'm sure you will forgive me in that one, won't you? But I will never be too busy to spend time with those from my church. I will never tell someone that I am too busy to minister the gospel to them. I hope I am never too busy to read the Bible or pray.

Maybe you are busy as well. Maybe more so. I hope during this busy season of your life that you might find yourself in that you would use this time as an evaluation tool. Your busyness is like a mirror that reflects what is really important to your heart. I think if you look close enough, it will point out to you your view of God and idols.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

VBS 2012

This next week is VBS week! I love it. From 9am to 12pm every day, IncrediWorld Amazement park will open at Cardinal Middle School. We are hoping and praying for well over 100 kids to walk through the doors to go on a thrill ride through God's creation (as of Friday, we had over 90 pre-registered). Throughout the week the kids will have a great time playing games, singing songs, eating snacks and making crafts. But most importantly, they will spend time each day being instructed from God's Word. Kids will learn that God is an amazing, creative and power Creator who made the world and everything in it in six-24 hour days. They will learn that the bible is absolute truth and is relevant to our everyday lives. They will learn to "put on their Bible glasses" as they view every situation through the lens of God's Word. They will learn how God uniquely and specifically designed animals to live in different climates and to hunt in different ways. They will learn that dinosaurs and man were created on the same day! They will also hear the precious truth of the gospel, that the same holy, creator God who made everything we see from nothing, sent His Son, Jesus to earth to live a perfect life and die in our place for our sins.

If you are around the area and would like your kids to come, please show up at Cardinal Middle School before 9am Monday morning. 

Would you please pray for us this coming week? Here are some specific prayer requests:
  • Pray for the hearts of the children who come this week.
  • Pray that they will hear and respond to the gospel.
  • Pray for soft hearts and listening ears.
  • Pray for the 40+ volunteers
  • Pray for strength and energy during this very busy week.
  • Pray that we would actively seek opportunities to share the gospel throughout the week one on one with the children.

Video Sunday: The Gospel in Every Sermon by Dever, Driscoll, & MacDonald

This is a short video by the Gospel Coalition that was filmed about two years ago. Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald discuss whether the gospel should be shared in every sermon or is it for special occasions like an evangelism Sunday. Listen closely and you will hear the heart of several men who want the gospel, expect the gospel to change the hearts of individuals inside and outside of their church. What is our expectation?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

This Week in the Blogosphere

Each week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week reading a few of them. I have taken the time to link to some of my favorite blog posts from around the blogosphere from the previous week. I hope that maybe one or two of these stories will be an encouragement to you.
  • What The Bible Says About Heaven Books by Tim Challies. He does a really good job of comparing some of the trendy "I went to heaven and came back to tell about it" stories with biblical examples of people who went to heaven. It would be worth a read. This is a follow-up of what he summarized in a Heaven Tourism blog post that is also worth your time.
  • The Great Gift Certificate Giveaway by Tim Challies. I couldn't help but to list this as well as he has a major giveaway going on that ends in a couple days. He is giving away $500 worth of gift certificates to Monergism Books (He suggests that it be $250 to you and $250 to your pastor - I highly recommend that!).
  • Pastoral Theology: Some Book Recommendations by Kevin DeYoung. This might not be for you, but you never know. If you are looking for a great list of great books that their church recommends for all the different realms of pastoral ministry. I would add, there are many on here that are not just for pastoral ministry, are helpful for all ministry.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Christless Christianity by Michael Horton

I get together once a month with a couple senior pastors in my area that are proving to become good friends. In our lunch meeting each month, we talk about one book that we read together the previous month. The book that we read for this past month was my choice and I wanted to read Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. It has taken me a couple weeks since finishing the book to get to writing this review of the book.

In summary, Horton provides a scathing rebuke of the American gospel presentation. And this gospel message, which is summarized by Christian Smith's--Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism--has only been successful because hundreds of thousands of people accept it. It is a gospel about them. It is a gospel to meet their comforts. But it is a gospel without Christ. His main argument in this book is "not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous" (23). In case you do not know, vacuous means empty or without content; put in the context of this book, it means that evangelicalism has become without the content of Jesus Christ. In the book, even before he states that purpose, he has a statement that I think adequately represents the book.
"My concern is that we are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American church life where the bible is mined for 'relevant' quotes but is largely irrelevant on its own terms; God is used as a personal source rather than known, worshiped, and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God's judgment by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be" (19).
That's the tone of this book. At times, it seems harsh. But maybe that is what is needed in our culture. Harshness. Maybe that is the only way that people will be awakened from their silly views of Christianity which has themselves at the center instead of Christ.

I could not help as I read this book that the main problem he was driving towards was a lack of understanding of the doctrine of sin. People really do not think they are as sinful as they are. And because of that, most people really do not understand their main problem. It is not about Jesus coming to make their life better here, it is about Jesus being an atonement for their sins before a holy God. This thought is seen most prevalent in chapter three when Horton takes on Joel Osteen. In pointing out some of the errors in Osteen's self-help, self-worship, prosperity gospel, Horton observes:
"In this context, Jesus becomes whatever you want him to be in your life. If one's greatest problem is loneliness, the good news is that Jesus is a reliable friend. If the big problem is anxiety, Jesus will calm us down. Jesus is the glue that holds our marriages and families together, gives us a purpose to strive toward, and provides wisdom for daily life. There are half-truths in all of these pleas, but they never really bring hearers face-to-face with their real problem: that they stand naked and ashamed before a holy God and can only be acceptably clothed in his presence by being clothed, head to toe, in Christ's righteousness" (73-74).
For Horton, this problem extends way beyond extremes like Osteen. It has invaded the depths of the evangelical church that has been eating a steady diet of moralistic preaching for years. "The Bible is nothing like Aesop's fables: a collection of brief stories that end with a moral principle" (149). But that seems to be the norm in many churches. A text read with several applications placed on it. There seems to be little of how many Sunday school Bible stories fit into "the unfolding drama of redemption that leads to Christ" (151). But that is what is needed. He argues that we have turned the good news of the gospel into good advice on how to live a moral life. That fails at every turn.

I would recommend this book with one caveat. Make sure you know what you are in for when you pick up this book. He withholds no punches. He is sarcastic at times. It is a sad, but accurate, picture of the current church in America. And it is not the easiest book to read. But if you want to come face to face with a message that speaks truth and isn't afraid to use names, this will be a good book for you. He ends with these words:
"The church in America will have to learn what it means to mourn before it can dance. Sticking to the story, fixing our eyes on Christ--even if it means distracting us from what we have diagnosed as our real issues--is the kindest thing a pastor can do for a congregation, the most precious gift we can receive and pass along to our neighbors, and the most relevant mission on earth" (259).
Amen. I want to be that pastor.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Advice on Leading Your Children to Christ by Matt Chandler

I came across an extended article and interview with Matt Chandler today that was a real blessing to my heart. You would do well to check it out. In the article, he was asked the question, "Have you made a conscious effort to lead your children to Jesus Christ?" His answer was, "Oh, absolutely. From the second they were born." That lead to the question of "How?" This was his helpful answer:
"Several ways. One, we have actively prayed for each of them by name before the Lord, asking for God to save them, to draw their hearts to him. We do a family devotional five nights a week together. It's 15-20 minutes, it's usually very chaotic, you just have to trust that the Lord's using it. A friend just told me one time, 'You just have to do it, man. If you wait till everybody can do it, it's never gonna happen.' So sometimes that's just us reading a book and talking about it. Sometimes that's just us reading the Bible together, but right now we'll read the Bible for five minutes, and then we've been reading a chapter from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and we're in Book Two right now, and we did Chapter Three last night. We've got a big hardback edition that's got great pictures. The thing that I've always wanted to be real careful about is that I don't want them to say they're Christians because Mom and Dad are Christians. I don't want them to sign on as a family heritage; I want them to really have affection for Jesus. So in regard to making that decision for Christ, I have not brought that up with any of my children. I have simply tried to point them to Jesus. And I could be making a horrible error, but it's been my experience here at The Village that a lot of kids said they become Christians when they were 5, 6, 7 years old, because that's what Mom and Dad wanted. So I've let it be known, it's very much what Daddy wants. It's very much what Mommy wants. But that it needs to be their decision, and their mom and dad's love for them is not predicated on that decision, that they need to own that, and that Dad very much wants for them to love Jesus like Dad loves Jesus but not to love Jesus because Dad loves Jesus. We try to make that as clear as possible."
That's a helpful answer. What are you doing to help lead your children to Christ?

You can read the rest of the article HERE.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Inside or Outside

My family and I took much of the day yesterday to clean the inside of our big garage. The first step of any good garage cleaning project is to get everything out of the garage. Then we took great care in sweeping it out. We used a shop vac on the walls and all of the benches. But then we took a power washer and cleaned all of the floors. It was drastically needed because it was so dirty.

As we were engaged in this cleaning process, I thought of the words of Jesus to the religious leaders. At one point in His ministry, He is speaking to the religious activities that people do that makes them appear to be spiritual. And Jesus says that all they are doing is taking care of the outside when in fact what they need is to clean the inside. Specifically, he says:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Fro you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:25-28)
I could not help to think that often times, religious activities in my life are more like power-washing the outside of the garage than they are taking everything out and cleaning the inside. That's the difference between religious activities and the gospel. The gospel begins with God being holy and me not. It says that I must repent of my sins. That's the equivalent to taking things out of the garage and taking them before the Lord. It is washing the inside of the tomb instead of just making the outside look pretty.

What Jesus was saying is that the inside is what matters. It is the inside that He cares about. He doesn't care that you have perfect attendance at church, if the inside of your heart is filled with dead men's bones. He doesn't care that you give lots of money to the church, if you do it for selfish motives. He doesn't even care that you can memorize large portions of the Bible if you never allow them to impact the way in which you live. The gospel begins in the heart. Religion begins with externals.

What is more important to you? Cleaning the inside or the outside of your life? Think about that as you think about cleaning your house this week. Hopefully you will take some time to repent and deal with the inside of your life before Christ in the gospel instead of just putting on a masquerade that everything is okay by just cleaning up the outside of your life.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Morning After: Don't Waste Your Summer (Ephesians 5:15-21)

I have been doing a lot of thinking the past several weeks on what I want to get accomplished this summer. I know how prone I am to being very productive during the school years and very casual during the summer months. The more casualness of my schedule, the more I find myself living for me and becoming more lazy. Yesterday, I shared some thoughts at church on what it might mean to not waste your summer.

There is a Seinfeld episode where George Costanza gets a 3-month severance package after being fired from the Yankees and he promises to really make something of himself. He stands up and declares that this is going to be the "Summer of George." One of my main thoughts yesterday was that if the summer becomes primarily about me, it has been a wasted summer. A life focused on self is a wasted life. To help with this thought, I was greatly encouraged through Paul's words in Ephesians 5:15-16:

"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."

The Christian is called to carefully watch their steps to make sure that it results in a wise life, not unwise carelessness that brings tragic results. And for Paul, one of the ways that the wise walk is seen in the life of the Christian is in making the most of the time that God has given them on this earth. Could it be that one of the most foolish things a Christian can do is to waste time and opportunities that God has given?

God knows our beginning and our end. Some of you are probably close to the end than others. But the thing is, we do not know which side of that equation we might fall in. Nobody who dies thinks they were going to die. If this was your last summer, how would you want to spend it? How would you want to use it? There are no options of jumping back into the Delorean and going back in time. This is it. It is the only summer of 2012 you will ever have. Will you make the most of every opportunity and redeem your time this summer? Think about what your future self would have wished you had accomplished for Christ and make plans to do it.

I gave several practical steps to not waste your summer from the rest of that passage in Ephesians 5. If you want to hear them unpacked, please listen to the sermon (usually posted by Tuesday).

1. Read Your Bible this Summer (vs. 17)
2. Obey the Spirit this Summer (vs. 18)
3. Engage Others in Ministry this Summer (vs. 19)
4. Be Thankful this Summer (vs. 20)
5. Seek Humility this Summer (vs. 21)

My challenge for you is to take some time and sent some goals for this summer. Make plans that are geared for eternity. What do you want to accomplish? If you make no plans to redeem your time this summer, I promise you that you will not make the most of it. You will fail. You will have regrets. Let's commit to living a regret filled summer. Let's redeem our time before it happens.

Question: What Are Some Of Your Goals This Summer?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Directions Against Excess Sleep by Richard Baxter, pt. 2

Yesterday, I mentioned that I was greatly impacted by a list I came across by Richard Baxter on directions against excess sleep. Funny as it may sound, I hit the snooze button yesterday morning about the same time it was scheduled to post. That thought alone drives home my need for this even more. I listed the first six directions yesterday, here are the final seven (I have taken some liberty to make these more readable)

Direction #7: Remember that God holds you and is calling you to work. If the king, or any great person, or friend, did but knock at your door, you would rise presently to wait upon them. Why, if God would speak with you by His Word, or hear you speak to him by prayer, will you lie still and despise his call?

Direction #8: Remember how many are attending you while you sleep. If it be summer, the sun is up before you, it has gone so many thousand miles while you have slept. It has given a day's light to the other half of the world since you laid down and is coming again to light you to your work, and will you let it shine in vain? All the creatures are ready in their places to assist you and you are asleep?

Direction #9: Consider whether you will allow your servants to do the same; they must be up and at work, or you will be offended, and that you hire them not too sleep. Is it any lawfuller for you than them, to sleep one minute more than is needful for your health? No, not a minute. 

Direction #10: Remember that your morning hours are the chiefest part of all the day, for any holy exercise or special employment of the mind. The mind is fresh and clear, and there is less interruption by worldly business; whereas when others are up and about their business, you will have distractions. Those that have tried it can say by experience that the morning hours are the flower of their time, for prayer or studies; and that early rising is a great part of the art of redeeming time.

Direction #11: Remember how many are condemning you by their diligence, while you are slugging away your time. How many holy persons are then at prayer in secret, wrestling fervently with God for their salvation; or reading and meditating in his word! What do they get while you are sleeping! The blessed man does delight in the law of the Lord, and meditate in it day and night; and you love your ease, and are sleeping day and night. How many thousands are hard at work while you are sleeping! Have you not work to do, as well as they?

Direction #12: Remember that sensuality or flesh-pleasing is the great condemning sin that turns the heart from God; and if it be hateful in a drunkard or fornicator, why is it not so in you? Mortify the flesh, and learn to deny it in its inordinate desires, and your sin is almost cured.

Direction #13: For then the executive part is easy when you are willing; it is but agreeing with some one to awaken you, and a little cold water will wash away your drowsiness if you consent.

I love that last one, if you have too hard a time, get someone to throw some cold water on your face. I have flashbacks to my mom when I was a kid in school. Scary! Redeem your time. Make the most of what the Lord has given you. Resist the temptation to make this summer about sleep, but make it about ministry and the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Question: Which Of These Directions Most Confront Your Heart?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Directions Against Excess Sleep by Richard Baxter, pt. 1

I have been studying this week for a sermon on Sunday that I am calling "Don't Waste Your Summer." I have been thinking and meditating on Ephesians 5:15-16 where Paul calls the Christians to walk as a wise man. Specifically, he tells them to redeem their time that they have on this earth. Yesterday, as I was praying and thinking about this, I pulled out my copy of Richard Baxter's Practical Works. I quickly thumbed through the index to see if there was anything that might speak towards a topic of redeeming the time. If you know anything about the puritans, they had a knack for redeeming the time.

What I found from him was troubling to my soul. Well, maybe not so much troubling as convicting. In one section, he gave some directions against the sinful excess of sleep. After some preliminary comments, Baxter gives these 13 directions that should smack many people in the face as a wake up call to redeem their time. As I read these, it was easy to think of the summer months, especially for students who have the summer off. Please read these with care and towards a view of evaluating your own heart. I have taken some liberty as to translate much of what he has said into a more modern English reading, but I pray I have kept his original intent. I will share six of them today and then the last seven tomorrow.

Direction #1: Correct that sluggish temper of body which inclines you to it, which is chiefly to be done by such an abstinence or temperate diet. A full belly is fit for nothing else but sleep or lust. Reduce your diet to that measure which is needful to your health, and eat not any more to please your appetites. And let fasting cure you when you have exceeded.

Direction #2: Labor hard in your callings, that your sleep may be sweet while you are in it; or else you will lie in bed on pretense of necessity because you cannot sleep well when you are there. Then you will say, you must take it out in the morning, because you sleep not in the night. But see that this be not caused by idleness.

Direction #3: See that you have a calling which will find your employment for all your time. Yes, do something that urges you to diligence. Otherwise, you will lie in bed and say that you have time to spare or nothing to do. You can rise when you have a journey to be gone, or a business of pressing necessity to be done; keep yourself under some constant necessity, or urgency of business at the least.

Direction #4: Take pleasure in your callings, and in the service of God. Sluggards themselves can rise to that which they take much pleasure in; as to go to a party or feast, or play, or game, or to a good bargain, or anything which they delight in. If you had a delight in thy calling, and in reading the Scripture and praying, and doing good, though could not lie contentedly in bed, but would long to be up and doing, as children do in their play.

Direction #5: Remember the grand importance of the business of your souls which always lies on your hands, that the greatness of your work may rouse you up. What? Lie slugging in your bed, when you are so far behindhand in knowledge, and grace and assurance of salvation; and have so much of the Scripture and other books to read and understand? Have you not grace to beg for a needy soul? Is not prayer better work than excess of sleeping? Great business in the world can make you rise, and why not greater?

Direction #6: Remember that you must answer in judgment for thy time, and what comfort will you have to say that you slugged away so many hours in a morning? And what comfort at death when time is gone to review so much cast away in sleep?

Check in tomorrow for the next 7 Directions by Richard Baxter on the topic of sleep.

Question: Which One Of These Most Speaks To You & Why?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pray Without Ceasing

Some of this blog post is taken from an article I wrote for a local newspaper a few years back. But I was reflecting upon some of these things again and wanted to share some thoughts on prayer. I woke up this morning and my first thoughts were of some people in the church that I needed to pray for. I was burdened for them. I felt as if I needed to pray for them. Now, I don't say that because I am some sort of spiritual giant. I'm not. I say that because as I woke up, I knew that unless God were to intervene in certain situations, I would not be able to handle them.

It made me think about an issue of prayer. It made me think once again about what it means to pray at all times. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 that we should "pray without ceasing." This command is impossible if it is to be in a formal context. We have to eat, sleep, work, and many other things throughout our day. What he meant is for us to develop a continual awareness of God, his presence, and then talk to Him. If you are a Christian, talking to your Father should be on your mind all the time. As you wake up in the morning, as you are going throughout your day, as you are cooking dinner, as you are getting ready to go to bed, God is on your mind and you are talking to Him about what is happening in your life.

As well, Paul says that we should be "anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6). How can everything mean everything unless it is in some sense informal prayers to your Father? This means as I am writing this, I am praying for god to give me the words to say (and even as I write it for a second time I am praying for a heart of forgiveness for blogger). As I spend time with my children, I am talking to God on how to answer their tough questions. It means as I am playing golf, I am spending time talking to my  Father about the beauty of His creation.

If you are a Christian, if you believe in Jesus as the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), your attitude toward your Father should be respectful in prayer, but not necessarily always formal. We tend to think that if we have some sort of uninterrupted prayer for 30, 60, or 90 minutes every day, we have a deep prayer life. There are some people who spend those amounts of time each day in their closet praying, or even more, and they do not have a deep prayer life. For them, it is not a relationship with their Father through Jesus; it is something they do in their religion.

And so I pray. I pray as I wake up. I pray as I go through the day. I pray as people come to my mind. I pray as often as I think of situations that need prayer. And I hope you will as well. Let us pray without ceasing.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Morning After: An Interview with Eugene Bakhmutsky

I am fully committed to preaching. I believe it is the way God has instructed us in order to reach the world. Proclaim God's Word. It has been my belief that every week at church should be a time of preaching. But yesterday, I went outside the norm and did a question and answer with Eugene Bakhmutsky, my Russian friend. Here are some of the highlights.


Question: Tell us about your family history and how you came to Christ. 

Answer: His great grandfather was killed for his faith. Both of his grandfathers were sent to Siberia as a form of imprisonment. From the time that he turned five years old, his family made him memorize the Scriptures because they knew at some point he might be imprisoned. Being imprisoned for your faith would mean that he would have no copy of the Scriptures. Therefore he wanted to have as much memorized as he could. He also shared that when he was young, he remembered in church being a calendar where people would sign up to borrow the one copy of the Bible that the church had. You could have it for a few days at a time and then you would bring it back. When their family would get it for a few days, they would copy as much of the Bible as they could. They had almost a fully copied version of the Bible.

My Takeaway: We are the opposite in many ways. And maybe their church is now as well. But we have so many Bibles that it is no longer special to us. I wonder what it would be like if we only had the Bible for a few days at a time. Would we read it? Would we cherish it? Would we study it? Would we memorize it? Would we write it? I think so. I only wish I treated it like that today.


Question: What is it like to be a Christian in Russia today?

Answer: They are preparing their people that it will be necessary to pay the price. He spoke of the high calling it is to be a member of a church. He said that they ask each of their members to share the gospel every week, to give generously, to attend regularly, and to be involved in a small group. If people are not willing to do that, they are not going to join their church. He also mentioned that each of his elders have been interviewed by the KGB in the past year. They know that all of their phone calls are recorded, which might seem scary to us, but not to them. He shared that they share the gospel each time they are on the phone because they know that the agents will be listening and recording their conversation. That was really funny.

My Takeaway: We need to prepare for similar persecution in America. In many ways, I want it. I think it would purify the church if we were to have a little suffering for the gospel. It is only a matter of time. As well, maybe we do not have much of it because of the lack of boldness we have for the gospel message.


Question: What is your perception of American Christianity? If you could give one word of encouragement for us, what would it be?

Answer: Eugene was very reluctant to answer this question, even though we have talked often about it personally. He simply did not want to look like he was coming in and judging American Christians. He said that he has met some very godly men and women in the church in America. But overall, he thinks the love for Christ is declining in our nation. He gave a few examples of why he thinks this. But then his word of advice was that we should be bold for our faith. We should share the gospel with much more boldness than we currently do.

I asked him if he thought he had the gift of evangelism. He simply said that he is a Christian. Jesus said that if we follow Him, He would make us fishers of men (Matt. 4:19). He said that making excuses about having a gift of evangelism versus not having one is not good. It makes us rationalize as to why we do not talk about Jesus to the person we sit next to on the airplane or the person who lives next door to us. Christians talk about Christ. That was his point.

My Takeaway: I need to be bolder for my faith. I need to share the gospel with more clarity. I am extremely convicted that I do not share Jesus like I have been called to do. I think it has become easy for me to say that I am sharing the gospel when I am just being kind and nice and showing the love of Jesus. I was humbled and convicted.


There were many other questions that I asked him. If you want to listen to the entire interview, you can find it HERE (usually posted by Tuesday afternoon).

Saturday, June 9, 2012

This Week In The Blogosphere

Each week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week reading a few of them. Last Saturday, I took the time to share some of my favorite blog posts from around the blogosphere from the previous week. Today, I want to do the same. Who knows? Maybe one or two of these stories will be an encouragement to you.

  • The State of Preaching by Tim Challies. In this short post, Challies highlights five points relevant to the downgrade of biblical preaching that was shared by Al Mohler in an article in 2006. The thing is, those five points are as relevant today as they were back then.
  • Southern Baptists and Salvation: It's Time to Talk by Albert Mohler. There was a lot of buzz in the blogosphere this past week on a document that was put out by some in the Southern Baptist Conference against the doctrines of Calvinism. I think Mohler's response to it is right on!
  • Preachers on Preaching by Nathan Buzenitz. He gives ten reminders to preachers on the topic of preaching, but he does so through the use of quotes from some famous preachers. Even if you are not a preacher, but a listener, you might like to read a bit about what your preacher is called to be and do.
  • Please Stop Killing Me With Your Statistics by Stephen Altrogge. This is an honest response to the millions of statistics that are told of the millions of people that are dying of hunger, millions being aborted, and so on. He says, I'm not told to love a statistic, but my neighbor. Helpful.
What was your favorite blog this past week?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Friend: Eugene Bakhmutsky

In 1999, I traveled to Moscow with a fellow youth pastor to participate in a National Youth Pastor's Conference with the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist (EUCB). At that time, I met a young youth pastor by the name of Eugene Bakhmutsky. I did not know it at the time, but it was the start of a good friendship. It seems like every couple years, the Lord brings our paths to cross. Almost every time I have traveled to Russia, I have been able to carve out time to visit him. And when he travels here to America, we somehow try to connect. Today, he is on his way to Ohio to spend the weekend with our family and church. I am so excited.

Who Is Eugene?
As a young university student in 1998, Eugene Bakhmutsky was offered a full scholarship to pursue a doctorate in scientific economics in Novosibirsk, Siberia. At the same time, he was feeling the pull to attend a Strategic Bible Institute (SBI) that was also being conducted in the city of Novosibirsk. Wanting to serve Christ, Eugene turned down the doctoral program and enrolled in the SBI. His studies intensified his love for God's Word. After completing the SBI, he continued his education at the new Novosibirsk Biblical Theological Seminary.

While pursuing his Masters of Divinity degree, Eugene served as the youth leader of the Novosibirsk Baptist Church. At the same time, he had an extremely popular youth outreach on secular radio, which attracted great opposition and even death threats from Satanists.

After graduation, the Baptist Union president asked Eugene to move to Moscow and lead the development of the youth ministries in Baptist churches spread all over Russia. He developed a national network of leader-trainers at the regional and state levels and trained them in founding their youth ministries on solid Biblical principles. In God's grace, more than 20,000 young men and women are blessing their churches and impacting their communities for Christ all across Russia. 

In the spring of 2011, Eugene became the senior vice-president of the UECB, as well as remaining the leader of the youth ministries. He also is the pastor of the Russian Bible Church in Moscow, Russia.

How Are We Friends?
I ask myself this question often. How did we end up being friends? How does a Midwestern boy from America become friends with a Russian guy from Siberia? The only explanation for this sort of friendship is the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 4, Paul says of Christians that 
"There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (vs. 4-6)
When a person comes to believe the gospel, many things happen. One of those things is that they are indwelt and baptized with the Holy Spirit. That is not a physical thing, but a spiritual thing. The Spirit of God places us in the body of Christ and makes us equal with all other Christians. Because of that, there is a connection that happens between Christians. While we might have grown up with different cultures, different foods, and different languages, we can be unified because of One Spirit bringing us into one body. My friendship with Eugene makes no sense apart from the Spirit of God in each of our lives.

Why Are We Friends?
The first time we met in 1999, he told me of how he was traveling from church to church in the Novosibirsk region, meeting with students and youth pastors. He was on bus after bus, hardly ever being home. As he told me that story, I asked him, "Don't you ever get tired?" His answer still rings with me today. He said, "I will rest in heaven."

That's why we are friends. Or at least, that is why I want him as a friend. He challenges me. He encourages me. He motivates me. He is part of the cloud of witnesses that is running the race of the Christian life. He helps me walk with Christ. I do not know why he wants to be my friend, but I know why I want to be his. He helps me love Jesus more in my life. 

I am so excited to have him spend the weekend with our family. I am excited to have him share at church on Sunday (CBC - please be there). I will never tire of his friendship, and there are very few people in this world that I would say that about. It is just funny that it happens to be some guy from the other side of the world.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Helpful Sermon by James MacDonald

At a lunch meeting this afternoon, a friend of mine told me I should watch the closing message of Harvest University 2012 by James MacDonald. There certainly have been some things in the past year that have been difficult for MacDonald, or at least, he has been the target of many bloggers. I have even written some things that questioned some of the decisions he has made in the past. But this sermon was extremely helpful to my soul. In it, he discusses:
  • 5 Things Your Pastor Wants You To Know, But Can't Tell You
  • 4 Things Good Elders Say Frequently
  • 3 Things A Church Needs From Its Pastors
  • 2 Good Ways to Process This Conference
  • The Single Most Important Thing in Your Church

As I watched this sermon this afternoon, I was greatly encouraged. If you have a pastor, you should watch this video. He gives some insights into the heart of your pastor. You will certainly want to listen to the first half of the sermon that is in the video below. The rest of the sermon can be found HERE.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Which Kingdom Do We Pursue?

After Jesus was betrayed by Judas, he begins a cycle of trials before Pilate and Herod. At one of them, Pilate and Jesus have a conversation (John 18:33-38, the following is my paraphrase)
Pilate: Jesus, are you the King of the Jews? 
Jesus: Do you say this on your own, or did others say that to you about me? 
Pilate: Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done? 
Jesus: My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world. 
Pilate: So you are a king? 
Jesus: You say that I am a king. But it was for this purpose that I was born and came into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.
After this interaction, Pilate goes back to the religious leaders and tells them that he finds no fault in Jesus. He might think that Jesus is crazy, but he doesn't think that Jesus deserves to be killed.

There is so much here in this short passage, but I was struck this morning at Jesus' statement of His kingdom not being of this world. I have preached that often. I have talked to people about being focused upon the eternal and not the temporal. I have encouraged others to stop seeking out the things of the world. This is nothing novel in my theology or probably yours. But as I read it this morning, I was once again struck by this thought: 

How much time do I spend seeking a kingdom of this world vs. a kingdom not of this world?

Maybe that's a good question for you to ask today as well. If Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, then I do not want to be seeking a kingdom of this world. This will be forefront of my mind today as I work here in this world. Maybe it will be for you as well.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Morning After: One Incredible Party (1 Kings 8:54-66)

It took seven years for Solomon to build the temple. And then it took fourteen days to celebrate the dedication of the temple with a party. I have been to a lot of parties in my lifetime, but I have never been to one that was the magnitude of this party. Actually, it was the joint celebration of two feasts. The first seven days was the celebration of the Feast of Dedication. The next was the Feast of Tabernacles (that's why in vs. 65, many translations will say seven day, seven days, fourteen days). There was no better time to celebrate the dedication of the temple than this.

After Solomon prays, he turns to the people of Israel and blesses them. He modeled to them a dependence upon God, but he also wants to challenge them to live their lives in submission to Him. Through his challenge and their actions, Solomon and the people of Israel demonstrate what it takes to throw a real party.

Ingredient #1: A Confidence in God's Faithfulness
Throughout the initial blessing and even the prayer, Solomon was obsessed with the fact that God is a God who can be trusted. He keeps His word. In 1 Kings 8:55-56, he reiterates this one more time. God is not like the father who promises his children ice cream after their baseball game only to change his mind about it. He is faithful to His promises. The question for the Christian is, "Do I really believe that? Do I really believe that God is as faithful to His Word to us today as He was to Israel?"

Ingredient #2: A Hope For God's Presence
In vs. 57, Solomon's hope was that God would be with them. That's a great thought, but we can't rip this from the context. He is standing in front of the temple, where God had come to dwell so He would be present among His people. He did indeed dwell with them, but not to the extent that He did when Jesus showed up. He was called Immanuel, which means "God with us" (Matt. 1:23). Because of Jesus, we do not have to travel to Jerusalem or any other city, we can be in the presence of God immediately through our mediator.

Ingredient #3: A Desire For God's Initiative
Verse 58 flows from vs. 57. Solomon's hope was that God would be present with them for a purpose, so that He would incline their hearts to obey Him. He knew what we experience everyday. We are not able or capable or willing to obey God without His grace in our lives. Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to be holy and so easy to sin? I think the doctrine of sin is the most difficult concept for Americans to grasp because it goes against everything they have been taught their entire life. We are have been told that we can achieve and accomplish anything our hearts desire if we work hard enough. But the gospel says, we can't do it alone apart from God.

Ingredient #4: A Prayer For God's Ear
He prayer is that God would continue to listen to him as he pleads for intervention in their life (vs. 59). He wants God to hear and remember their prayer. He wants God to keep it before Him so that when they repent, He will forgive.

Ingredient #5: A Passion For God's Name
Once again, vs. 60 flows from vs. 59. If God would listen to the cries of His people as He has said that He would do, the result would be that all the peoples of the world would come to know that there is no God like Him.

Ingredient #6: A Desire For God's Forgiveness
The party really starts to take off in vs. 62-65 as they offer 22 thousand oxen and 120 thousand sheep as sacrifices. Let's just say that this was not PETA approved. The majority of the sacrifices were referred to as peace offerings. This was a shared offering, that according to Leviticus 7, was to be a meal of celebration between God and man. What a better place to do that on such a grand scale than at the celebration of the temple, where God had come down to be with man. Of course, we know that God only accepts the offering because He is looking forward to Jesus, the perfect peace offering (Col. 1:20).

Ingredient #7: A Desire For God's Joy
The people of Israel left the party according to vs. 66 with joy and gladness in their heart. Their joy was not because the king knew how to throw a cool party. It was because they were overwhelmed at the goodness of their God. What makes your heart the most joyful and the most glad? If it is not the goodness of God, then you are probably settling for lesser things.

If you want to listen to the entire sermon, you can do so HERE, or you can read my notes HERE.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Video Sunday: How Big is Your God by Francis Chan

Do you still believe that God can do anything and are willing to live for it? That is one thing that Francis Chan encourages us to think about in this short video. I really appreciated his link to the power of a Big God with our relationships with each other. Are we willing to stir one another up and encourage one another to do big things because our God is a big God?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

This Week In The Blogosphere...

Each week, there are hundreds upon thousands of blog posts written by people all over the world. I find myself each week reading a few of them. I thought I would take the opportunity this Saturday to share links to a few that I have found most helpful this past week.

Friday, June 1, 2012

John Piper's Succession

On Tuesday, Collin Hansen released a video where John Piper and Jason Meyer talked the succession of Bethlehem Baptist Church for the first time publicly. This is a remarkable video. They share in the video how once Meyer was the candidate, Piper did not talk to him about the position. It was not because he was not in support of him, but because he wanted to stay clear of strong-arming this process. The process they discuss is enlightening and instructive. And I would have to think it takes some humility from both men to be part in this process.