Sunday, January 21, 2007

When the Darkness Will Not Lift

Blogs are supposed to be happy places. When people voluntarily display their lives to the world they want the best side to show (unless there's teenage angst involved). But no one's life is good all the time, and for some Christians, there are long stretches of time when there is no joy in God.

This short book (~80 pages in large font and plenty of white space) can help during those dry times. It's a shortened version of another John Piper book about fighting for joy. In this work, he crisply speaks to the place of the gospel in helping those for whom joy stays out of reach. He also addresses the role of medication in the fight for joy. Interspersed throughout are brief sketches of other well known Christians who have struggled with depression--some with happy endings and some without.

This is a helpful book for anyone waiting for God to bring them out of the darkness.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Two examples of evangelism from last night

Yesterday I was flying back from LA. My team and I were having dinner in a crowded airport restaurant when a man asked if he could sit with us. To shorten the story, he's on staff with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and I hoped to get him to share the gospel with my team since I am somewhat limited in evangelizing those that I supervise. After some small talk about FCA, I gave him an easy set-up by asking how he became a Christian. He gave some personal background and then said that "I asked Jesus in my heart."

Later during the flight I sat beside someone I didn't know but lives close to me. We talked for a while about all kinds of things. I prayed for the Spirit's help in making a gospel connection with him. Then I asked him what he thought of the Christian faith. This gave him a chance to talk about his Catholic upbringing and how he has gotten away from it. I was able to respond to him with an explanation of a holy and just God who will punish sin, our dire situation as sinners, the substitutionary work of Christ on our behalf, and the need to repent of our sins and put our full trust in the work of Jesus.

Any thoughts on the difference between these two approaches?

Monday, January 15, 2007

A parable about delight

Three farmers each desired a good harvest. One farmer knew that only God can cause a seed to sprout and so did no work himself. At the end of the season he had only a field of weeds. The second was a lazy farmer; rather than labor for his harvest, he drove to the nearest supermarket and bought canned vegetables. The third farmer labored in season and out and with difficulty brought forth a bountiful harvest.

One worshipper knows that only God can cause a heart to fill with delight and so does no work in preparing for worship. At the end of the service he has little more than he started with. The second worshipper is lazy, he sees no reason to prepare for worship and instead uses his money to find delight elsewhere. The third worshipper knows the great worth of worship and prepared himself thoroughly for it, bringing forth a heart brimming with delight.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Updated: Faith comes by hearing

My last post detailed my plan to listen better to the preached Word. Today, I was holding a squirmy (but nicely quiet) daughter throughout the sermon (on Colossians 1:16) but I was able to jot down at least partial answers to the questions.

What was the opening sentence? "Beloved, it is all about Jesus Christ."

What was the pastor's introduction about? (I didn't listen too well to this part due to squirmy Faith). Everywhere you turn you can see the handiwork of Jesus. Christ is pre-eminent. I think the pastor also made a reference to the heathen religions of the day.

What was the structure of the sermon? Since it's been a few weeks since Pastor Steele preached in Colossians, he began with a review of Col 1:15 and then gave 5 reasons why these matters are true. He also emphasized the covenantal, mediatorial, and doxological aspects to Christ's role in creation.

The main point? Christ has first place in everything, which includes his pre-eminence over Creation. His glory is the purpose for which all creation exists.

How did he deal thoroughly with the text? This was a strong area of the sermon. He pointed out the emphasis items such as "all things" appearing 4 times in the text along with an all-inclusive list of categories that Christ has pre-eminence in (e.g. things visible and invisible, etc). He also explained the different roles of the Trinity regarding the Creation work and how Christ's was pre-eminent. I especially liked the explanation of the mediatorial aspect of Christ's supremacy in Creation and how the Father "stepped-aside" and showcased the honor of the Son. But my favorite part were these phrases (repeated for effect): "Jesus is the Master all creation serves. All creation serves his glory. His glory is the purpose for which all creation exists. His honor is the objective of the created order."

What aspects of the pastor's style was helpful? There were a few illustrations, my favorite was the story from his childhood farm-life and how his dad would often give him undeserved credit for work that really his father did. He compared and contrasted this to the Father and Son's glory in Creation.

What was the application? "You live and breathe for the exaltation of Jesus Christ. But is that your personal, conscience worldview? Do you know a sense of honoring Christ in your life? We, too, were created for Christ. It is an honor and glory to Jesus for us to live for him." We are to do this in each sphere of our life (e.g. Sabbath worship, family, work).

What was the last sentence of the sermon? "You were created for Christ."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Faith comes by hearing this Sunday

I'm looking forward to this Sunday when our pastor is back in the pulpit and I believe will take back up with Colossians 1.

I plan to try to improve my listening by printing out the questions below and filling them in during and after the service. Would it help if you printed this out before Sunday and stuck it in your Bible to use?

What was the opening sentence?

What was the pastor's introduction about?

What was the structure of the sermon?

The main point?

How did he deal thoroughly with the text?

What aspects of the pastor's style was helpful?

What was the application?

What was the closing sentence of the sermon?

HT: Unashamed Workman

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Called to the ministry

Many young men attempt to discern whether they have a calling to the ministry; this short read (~90 pages) can help.

Edmund Clowney approaches the whole subject by an entirely different route than those that think in terms of "feeling called". The best way to prove you are called is to be involved in ministering now. Your gifts become evident on the field; are you now ministering mercy to the world and the church with the Word? If not then there is no calling. The calling comes through God's blessings on your active service in the body of Christ.

To miss your calling, follow this three-point program: assume that it begins in the future, decide that you don't know what it is, and sit down and wait for the Lord's call. To learn how to serve Christ tomorrow, you must serve him now. Stir up your gifts and Christ's call will be made clear. God's call to service normally comes in service.

Clowney deals with the issue of vocation and avocation. We are to stick to the positions in which God called us and glorify Christ there. Leisure time ought to be kingdom time, and it is possible for a man's fullest vocation to be his avocation. On the other hand, the way of the cross requires the willing abandonment of any vocation for the sake of the Lord. I think the direction that Clowney is leading us towards is if you are unable to utilize your gifts for ministry in your vocation then it is time to abandon it for full-time gospel ministry.

I recommend this book, and for my local readers, it is available for check-out from the church library.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

We Should All Have an Epiphany

Each year Kristin and I exchange gifts and present gifts to the children on January 6th. What makes it different than typical Christmas gifts is that Epiphany gifts are specifically designed to encourage faith in each other.

Here's a portion of an interesting article from Veritas Press on Epiphany.

The Christmas tree is down, the wrapping paper is on the trash pile, and all the decorations have been put away, but your celebration need not stop. For most Christians, now is the time for rejoicing because, beginning with January 6th, the season of Epiphany begins. During this time the church celebrates the offer of the Gospel to the Gentiles. The good news of Jesus’ birth comes to the whole world with the arrival of the Magi (traditionally named Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar), representing Europe, Arabia, and Africa, arriving on horse, camel and elephant, and bringing, respectively, gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bethlehem.

And, what does this matter to us today? As Peter Leithart says, “Epiphany, which began on January 6, means ‘Manifestation,’ and the season commemorates the appearance of Jesus to the Magi, the firstfruits of the gatherings of the Gentiles. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus came as the Light of the world, and that we are sent to call the nations to that Light. It reminds us that the mission is not a program of the church, but the very essence of the church. Epiphany season is an exhortation to be an “apostolic” church, a sent out people.”

The Gentiles! Most of us! Epiphany celebrates the first invitation to the Gentiles to become a children of God. Sounds to me like something to celebrate. Sounds like something to remember. Sounds like something to teach our children.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year fun

After 48 hours of snow beginning last Friday, we ended up with over a foot of new snow. Yesterday, I piled the kids, a neighbor friend, and our sleds into the van and we went in search of a good hill on base. We found a great one.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006 in the books

At the end of each year I post the books that I read.

The Democratization of American Christianity; Nathan Hatch
What Are People For; Wendell Berry
Pilgrim's Progress; John Bunyan (a yearly read)
The Name; Franklin Graham (a new Christian asked me to read it)
Meeting God Behind Enemy Lines (a co-worker asked me to read it)
The Church; Edmund Clowney
Help for Distressed Parents; Cotton Mather
A Well-Ordered Family; Cotton Mather
A Quest for Godliness; J.I. Packer
The Family; John MacArthur
Biblical Eldership; Alexander Strauch
A Simple Way to Pray; Parrish, Martin Luther
Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1; John Calvin
Your Family, God's Way; Wayne Mack
Letters to Ellen; Gilbert Meilander (about Christian ethics)
Slave Religion; Albert Rabeteau

Plus 4 or so historical novels that I read to Eli as part of his history curriculum. This served as my fiction reading for the year and was enjoyable.

I'm not satisfied with the amount and scope of reading I do and try to supplement with other ways. I found a good resource for preparing to teach, Justin Taylor's blog a constant source of helpful information, and The Way of the Master radio program an entertaining stimulant to evangelize.