Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Loving the Church - God's People Flourishing in God's Family

By John Crotts
Shepherd’s Press, 135 pages

This little book surprised me. I mean it really, pleasantly surprised me. I expected this to be a book for pastors about how to care and nourish God’s flock, but it ended up being a book about what it means for each member of the Body of Christ to commit to and care about their own local church.

Crotts packs a lot of information in this little book. He also fits all the information nicely into a small fictional narrative that serves as a skeleton for the book. Crotts gives compelling examples from Scripture as to why each believer should be a member of a local church and actively serve and commit to that church.

I like Crotts’ approach in this book because he gently yet firmly confronts our false ideas about what church is. He shows that the Scriptures stand in direct opposition to our American mindset of ‘go-it-alone’ in the Christian life. And he encourages each one of us to face what Scripture says and align ourselves with Scripture, not Scripture with ourselves.

This book pairs well with ‘The Deliberate Church’ by Dever and ‘Stop Dating the Church’ by Harris. I was pleasantly surprised to find this gem of a book. I’m convinced that each church member ought to read this book and seriously evaluate whether or not they are sinning by neglecting a local body of believers.

Discipleship And The Commands of Christ

"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. God therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen" -Matthew 28:18-20

At SSBC this year (and hopefully every year hereafter), our them verse has been 2 Timothy 2:2 - "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." Our focus has been discipleship. I find that discipleship is a word that not many people know the meaning of. Sure, we know what the word is, and we know that it has something to do with helping others follow Christ, but we seem to miss the mark in discipleship all the time.

In thinking about discipleship, inevitably, I began to think about Matthew 28:18-20. Of all the 'great commission' verses, these give us a clear definition of what discipleship is. We know that Jesus has commanded us to make disciples of all the nations. We know that we must baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And we know that we are to teach them to observe all things that Jesus has commanded. But what does that even mean?

Do we even comprehend what it means to teach all that Jesus commanded? As I thought about this, I began to see the need for a full understanding of what this pivotal phrase means. Indeed, you cannot be an effective disciple of Jesus without obeying His commands. So over the next few weeks (maybe months), it will be my aim to read through the four Gospels and other short passages where we find the words of Christ (ie. Revelation 2-3) to look for all of His commands.

As we embark on this journey, commit to obeying what we find. Perhaps we will discover some things that we have never known and never been taught. Let's seek to become obedient to all that Christ has commanded, and then teach others to do the same. That is the essence of discipleship.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Cutest Thing About Children

Here's a video of Jodie I found while clearing room on a memory card. Enjoy!

Oh God, Give Me A Soft Heart

"But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts." -Zechariah 7:11-12

This is perhaps one of the saddest couple of verses in all of Scripture. God issued a call for His people to show true justice, mercy, and compassion on their brothers, but they would not hear. He asked them not to oppress the widows and orphans, but they refused to even listen.

How often does this characterize me? How many times has the Lord urged me to show true justice, mercy, and compassion on the weak, widowed, and fatherless and I refused? Have I become a pharisee--too good to get his hands dirty caring for the poor? Have I refused to follow the law of God and the words sent by the Spirit of God?

Oh God, take away my heart of stone. Give me a soft heart, tender and compassionate for those around me. Open my ears that I may hear your law and do it. Open my eyes that I may see the needs around me. Help me walk step for step with You that You may delight in my obedience. Oh God, reveal Yourself to me through Your Word.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Review: If You Bite & Devour One Another - Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict

by Alexander Strauch
Lewis and Roth Publishers, 152 pages

Strauch tackles a subject in this book that many are afraid to. Everyone knows that there are fights within the walls of churches, fights between believers, and fights between denominations or doctrinal differences, but no one wants to deal with them or no one knows how to deal with them. This book provides sound, biblical teaching on how to handle conflict.

The strongest chapter in the book is the first chapter. It forms the foundation on which the rest of the book is laid. Strauch does an excellent job detailing the fact that every believer is in the Spirit, so in a conflict, every believer must commit to acting in the Spirit. Acting in the Spirit is the only way to avoid acting in the flesh. The main reason that believers have arguments among each other is that they act in the flesh.

If believers today would simply commit to acting according to biblical principles, especially during conflict, then we would see many conflicts resolved before they reach the exploding point. This book is a much needed tool for ministers and lay-people alike. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to avoid biting and devouring one another.

I have already used this book as a spring-board for Sunday PM sermons the last few months. It has proved, for me at least, to be invaluable. I find myself better able to deal with conflict through knowing the biblical principles for dealing with conflict. I have been better equipped as a servant of God through reading this book and studying the Scriptures it explains.

"If only we would spend as much time studying and obeying what the Scripture teaches about Spirit-led speech, conduct, and attitudes as we spend studying the doctrines over which we fight, our churches would experience far fewer divisions and more profitable theological discussions." -Alexander Strauch

The One Thing The Wise Know

"Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them." -Hosea 14:9

There really is one distinguishing factor between the wicked and the righteous. The righteous know that the way of the Lord is right and they walk in them. The wicked do not know the way of the Lord and they stumble along the way of life in their sin.

So if you are seeking to be wise, understand what the way of the Lord is and walk step for step with Him. Trust in the Lord and your path will be straight (Proverbs 3:5-6), your steps will be sure (Habakkuk 3:19), and your life will be filled with the righteousness of God (Hosea 14:9). Dive deep into the Word of God and it will be to you a lamp to guide your path (Psalm 119:105) and the source of divine knowledge (Hebrews 1:1).

"Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD!" -Psalm 119:1

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mt. Katahdin - Teen Camp 2011

This year was the first year that we have put on a 'teen camp' for the teens in our church. We were offered the use of a camp on Plunkett Pond in Benedicta, so we jumped on that opportunity and started organizing camp. I'm not an organizer, but my wife is, so together (also with Pastor Mike's help) we put together a 4 day camp with the theme being "Exodus." Each devotional came from the book of Exodus and we sought to see the many parallels between Exodus and the Christian life. Alicia and I took 4 teens, and also Pastor Mike (he just stayed for the climb). It was a great time.

One of the activities that we were privileged to do was climb Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park. Katahdin stands 5,268 ft high. It was quite a trip, but we all made it up the mountain. All of us, except one, are looking forward to doing the mountain again next year.

Mt. Katahdin is quite spectacular! I hope to do it again soon.

Planting Righteousness, Reaping Mercy

"Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, till He comes and rains righteousness on you." -Hosea 10:12

It often seems that our good deeds go unrewarded and our bad deeds go unpunished. Hosea reminds us that the Lord will repay you for what you have sown. If you sow righteousness you will reap mercy and the Lord will rain down righteousness on you. If you sow wickedness the judgment of God will come down on your head.

Israel had sown wickedness. They had played the harlot with other gods. Their spiritual adultery was absolute wickedness before the eyes of God. Because of this sin, the Lord was going to send Israel into captivity. They were going to serve other nations, pull a plow, and be harnessed like oxen. They were getting what they deserved.

But the Lord still loved Israel. He called them out of Egypt. He bore them up on eagles wings (Exodus 19:4). he gave them the Word of God. He provided them with the proper instruction for worship. He provided all that they needed as they wandered through the wilderness. Even when Israel played the harlot over and over, God still loved Israel.

The Lord loves you and me in spite of our sin. Even though we play the harlot and serve other gods over and over again, He still loves us. We deserve the wrath of God. "But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8.

"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" Romans 6:1-2. Let us not presume upon God's grace by continuing in sin. Let us sow righteousness that we may reap mercy and see the showers of righteousness fall from heaven on us. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." Galatians 6:7-9

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: Power Perfected in Weakness – The Journal of Christopher J. Klicka

Shepherd’s Press 2010
168 pages

I got this book from an online ‘yard sale’ at a few weeks ago. I didn’t really see that it was a journal when I bought it. But it looked interesting, and it was only $2, so how could I go wrong, right? I had no idea who Chris Klicka was, or what he had done. I discovered that he was the lead attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association for a number of years. He spoke at various Home School conventions and other venues.

This book gives some of Chris’ journal entries during his 15 year battle with multiple sclerosis. As the title suggests, much of this book is devoted to how God’s strength was displayed in Chris despite continually debilitating MS. Chris was unable to finish this book, but his wife, and a few of Chris’ closest friends helped finish up the last couple chapters.

I found this book incredibly encouraging. It was exciting to read of a man who was devoted to the Lord even in the midst of a battle with MS. Chris constantly shared Christ with his neighbors, EMTs that took him in ambulances, hospital nurses and doctors, home repair men, and countless others . Even after he passed away, his family slipped a tract into his hands so that the person at the mortuary would get a tract from taking care of Chris’ remains.

I felt that Chris’ journal entries were the strongest part of the book. The last few chapters were a bit redundant because they consisted of 4 or 5 of Chris’ closest friends recording what the last two weeks of Chris’ life were like. The Lord used this book to encourage me, and to see the need for evangelism everywhere I go. Chris Klicka is an encouragement even after his death. God’s power was truly displayed in this weak man’s life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Best Thing About Heaven

“…and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE.” –Ezekiel 48:35b

Do you ever wonder what heaven will be like? Ezekiel 1, Revelation 21-22, Isaiah 6 all give us a vivid picture of what heaven is like. But this last verse in Ezekiel shows us why heaven will be so great. The Lord is there.The dwelling place of the Lord is in heaven. It is as simple as that.

Often we long for heaven to see loved ones that have passed on, or to be rid of all the evil of this world. We desire to see the end of suffering and war. Our focus often becomes temporal things. But the fact that we can be with the Lord is the best part about heaven. Think about it, our sinfulness taken away, replaced with a glorified body allowing us to dwell with the Lord. Nothing hindering our relationship with Him. I long for that day!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The God of Restoration

“Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again.” –Ezekiel 37:21-22

Israel didn’t have a very good history with kings. First Saul reigned for a while. He started well, but ended his reign in suicide. David reigned after Saul. David was the godliest king that the land would ever know. But David had his failures too. His sin with Bathsheba began a downward spiral to the end of his reign. His son Solomon took over as king, and he started out pretty good as well. Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom, and as a result he became the wisest, wealthiest king the land would know. But Solomon loved many foreign women, and they caused his heart to be turned away from the Lord. He ended poorly.

After Solomon, the kingdom was divided into two parts: the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Throughout the rest of the monarchy in these kingdoms, they mostly experienced bad kings. There were a few kings that ‘followed in the footsteps of their father David’ and did what was right in the sight of God, but most of them had major flaws. Their sins had torn Israel apart even more.

God is the God of restoration. He makes whole what sin tears apart. And here in Ezekiel 37, the Lord promises that He will bring back the House of Israel from the nations among which they were scattered. Once again, they will have their own land to possess. God will put one king over them. They will be a united kingdom once again, and this kingdom shall never be divided again.

Our lives have been torn apart by sin. We fail in so many ways each day. Our sin breaks our communion with God. Our sin sends us into a depression that we often can’t get out of. Our sense of shame and guilt controls our thoughts and emotions as we shrink back from God and try to hide in the shadows. Our sin—ugly, revolting, disgusting in the eyes of God—divides and controls our life, breaking it to pieces, stopping us from enjoying life as God intended us to have it.

Our God is the God of restoration. He can make whole what sin has smashed into pieces. Do you need the restoration of God? Do you need Him to heal what sin has broken? I love Job 5:17-18: “Behold, happy is the man who God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole.”

Place yourself in the hands of the Almighty who is able to bind up and make your life whole. It may hurt for a time, for chastening is never any fun, but God will heal what sin has destroyed in your life. He is the God of restoration. Remember, "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: God Wins - Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News is Better than Love Wins

By Mark Galli
152 pages, Tyndale House Publishers

This is the third response to Love Wins that I have read, so I won't take too long. Galli brings yet another perspective to the Love Wins discussion. While Chan and Sprinkle brought out the pastoral side of things, seeking to refocus our thoughts towards a love for the lost, and Wittmer sought to identify exactly which heresies Rob Bell had aligned with, Galli seeks to show that Love Wins merely scratches the surface of the ideas it seeks to present.

In each chapter, Galli gives a compelling, biblical argument for why Love Wins only touches on the beginnings of subjects like heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. He shows that Love Wins is completely devoid of even mentioning the Holy Spirit, that Love Wins doesn't explain who Jesus really is, and that Rob Bell never touches upon the great mystery of the Trinity. Galli also shows that Love Wins minimizes every man's sin to a level of interpersonal offenses rather than what it is in truth, an infinite offense against a holy God.

This book is enlightening to some things that I had not noticed in Love Wins and it will help you understand to a fuller, more biblical level as to why Love Wins fails to show truth so many times. It is an easy read, but not as easy to read as Erasing Hell. I recommend this book, but again, I realize that this book will not reach the eyes of many unbelievers who are and will be deceived by Bell's book.

The True Shepherd

“I will make  them and the places all around My hill a blessing: and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing…Thus they shall know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and they , the house of Israel are my people, says the Lord GOD. You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men, and I am your God, says the Lord GOD.” –Ezekiel 35:26, 30-31

Israel had some good shepherds and some bad shepherds. They had King David, who “shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.” (Psalm 78:72). King David was a good shepherd. He shepherded by godliness and giftedness. But Israel also had some pretty bad shepherds. They had evil kings who made deals with the wicked, Gentile nations. These kings cared only for themselves. They failed to feed God’s flock and they effectively scattered God’s people among the nations.

After pronouncing judgment upon these wicked shepherds, God describes how He would be the True Shepherd for the people.  He would gather them from the nations to which they were scattered. He would feed them. He would care for them. He would rain showers of blessing upon them, and upon all the places around them. Then the people would know that God is with them.

The Lord Jesus is the True Shepherd described in Ezekiel 35. He tells us in John 10 that He is the good shepherd and “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” This claim that Jesus makes attests to His deity. Only God could be described as the Good Shepherd. 

The True Shepherd takes good care of His sheep. He provides their needs, feeds them when they are hungry, protects them when they are in danger, and blesses them beyond measure with His presence. Jesus is always with His sheep. He dwells in us as individuals, and among us as His flock. We are truly blessed with showers of blessing by the True Shepherd.

Are you one of Jesus’ sheep? Do you hear His voice? Does He know you? Do you follow the True Shepherd? 

Monday, July 18, 2011

You Never Know What You Got Til Its Gone

"And when this comes to pass--surely it will come--then they will know that a prophet has been among them." -Ezekiel 33:33

Ezekiel has been faithfully proclaiming the word of the Lord. He has had to do some difficult things. He has pronounced judgment upon Egypt and upon God's people for their disobedience. It is amazing that the people haven't turned against him.

In fact, the people gather around and listen to Ezekiel's words, then they spend ample amounts of time talking about it. But the heart of these people is far from the Lord. They listen to the words from God, but they do not do them. They listen to a man, called by God, faithfully proclaim the true words of God and they do not obey. Yet somehow, they seem to have some strange sense of enjoyment from hearing. It is as if they only want to be entertained by God's Word. What they cannot see is that God's Word is against them. They cannot see that the message of judgment is against them. They cannot see their wicked ways.

I often wonder how many people sit in the church pews on Sunday only to be entertained by the Word of God? How many people miss the message entirely because they are content to hear the Word? We live in a culture where entertainment is everything. People pay millions to be entertained. For example, the newest Harry Potter movie cleared $168.5 million in the first weekend alone. I'm afraid that this mentality has permeated and infected the church. Many show up to church willing only to observe and not participate acts of worship. They seem content just following the flow of the culture.

Men and brethren! Let us not only hear the Word, but let us do the Word. Listen to what it says, then obey it! Forsake the notion that you will be entertained by the Word. When the Word is faithfully proclaimed, you will be confronted with its truth. You will see your wickedness and be driven to your knees by the awesome power of the Holy Spirit. Then, and only then, will you see your need for repentance. This is the power of the Word of God.

Someday, when all the judgments that the people were listening to came to pass, they would remember that a man--a prophet--spoke the Words of God faithfully among them. At that time, it will be too late. God will punish the wicked for their sins and reward the righteous for their faith. May we be a people who hears the Word of God and does it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Missions Within Missions

Last week I was able to join John Rosado and Rafael Molineros on a trip to Milagro de Dios and La Concordia, 2 places in the coastal region of Ecuador. It was a great week.

Monday, July 1st, John and I traveled by various buses from Pifo to Milagro de Dios, a tiny village way out in the middle of nowhere. The only running water there is the river across the road, so we bathed there. Thankfully they do have electricity. John and I walked around visiting people, and inviting them to a Bible study we were going to hold at a neighbor's house. That night however, when we went to the neighbor's to have the study, there was no one home! So we returned to the Pacheco family house where we were staying. There I led the study in 1 John 5. It was a good time. The family is growing spiritually, little by little. We spent the night there and Tuesday we stayed until mid afternoon. Then we headed out to La Union, the closest town on the main road. We hitched a ride in the back of an old rusty mazda pickup truck. It took about a half hour or so I think.

From La Union we took a bus to La Concordia. I think that was about half an hour as well. Maybe less, I'm not sure. There we stayed at John's grandmother's house with his cousin. Each night from Tuesday until Friday John, Rafael, and I took turns leading a Bible study in the book of James. That was also a great time. Rafael met us there late that Tuesday night. He had been staying with some friends in Santo Domingo, about an hour I think from La Concordia.

Over the past couple weeks, John and Rafael had been going to the local schools where the opportunity had risen to share the gospel with kids from every grade. God truly opens doors. So that Wednesday we continued in the high school about a 5 minute walk from where we were staying. Rafael is part of the Open Air Campaigners group here in Ecuador, so he is skilled in evangelism through paintings. If you haven't seen an example I encourage you to check it out. It is a very effective tool that really captivates the kids' attention. The hook Rafael used was 'values.' He asked some questions like, what are values? and what are some examples of values? He then continued with a sort of game. he had numbers 1-36 painted on his board, and he cleverly went from talking about moral values to numerical values. His main point was that values never change.

Next, Rafael would continue by talking about Christian values. He talked about the emptiness in man and the futility of trying to fill that void with things of the world. Then he went on to explain the Gospel. After each meeting, a few kids showed interest and asked questions.

That Wednesday, one young guy wanted to talk to Rafael so they set up a meeting for 2:30. They talked and were gone for over 2 hours. Rafael later told us that the boy was struggling with homosexual tendencies and wanted some help. The kid had talked to the guidance counselor at school about it but she told him it was normal!!! What a foolish world we live in! It's not normal at all! I believe the boy was saved, but very confused. Rafael helped clear things up for him.

Wednesday and Thursday we did the same thing. The session was held 3 times each morning. We planned to return Friday, but they were having a sports day instead, so one of the grades didn't get to attend the presentation. We were able to talk with many teens, answer questions, and we discovered a few Christians, some also with problems. One girl talked to us afterward and confessed that she was finding it hard to be separate from the world. We talked to her and shared Bible verses and she left.

Friday afternoon we held a kids club at John's grandmother's house. We had about 7 show up. We played some games, John did a Bible lesson, and the kids colored and had a snack afterwards. We had also invited the teens to come later in the afternoon to have a youth group, but no one showed up, sadly. Rafael had to leave Friday afternoon. That night I led the Bible study in James chapter 2. Saturday morning, John and I returned to Pifo.

Each night we went to the park where there is a volleyball court, a turf soccer field, and a basketball court. The first night we played volleyball with some men that we met there that night. Thursday we played basketball with some other people we met, and Friday we played basketball again with some young people. During those nights we were also able to talk to people about who we are and what we were doing.

It was a really great week full of opportunities and blessings. John plans to continue working in Milagro de Dios and La Concordia as much as he can. The next few weeks will be very busy here with 3 VBS's and Camp, so the work in the coast will have to wait. I was encouraged to hear that at John's grandmother's, his relatives had continued the study of James without us. Pray for their spiritual growth, and pray that the Gospel will be shared in all of La Concordia. Pray also for the spiritual growth of those in Milagro de Dios. Pray for the young people in both areas, that they will seek the Lord first, and be separate from the world. The temptations are strong for them, and it is difficult. Pray also for the spiritual leaders, all over Ecuador. Pray for missionaries, pray that the Lord will send more laborers, and as you pray, be willing to go. Thank you for your prayers.

Luke 10:2

Protection and Peace

“Thus says the Lord GOD: “When I have gathered the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and am hallowed in them in the sight of the Gentiles, then they will dwell in their own land which I gave to my servant Jacob. And they will dwell safely there, build houses, and plant vineyards; yes, they will dwell securely, when I execute judgments on all those around them who despise them. Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God.” –Ezekiel 28:25-26

This portion of verses falls right in the middle of a number of chapters that focus on God’s judgment of the wicked nations. The location of these verses demonstrates what they are saying. Israel shall be gathered together in their own land and they shall exalt the Lord in their midst. Then, they shall safely dwell while the Lord executes judgment on all the nations around them. 

In the Christian life we often feel like this. We look around and see horrible things all around us. Sometimes we even see horrible things in our own lives. Yet, for the believer, there is incredible peace because safety and security does not lie in our circumstances or our ability to keep the events of life stable. Our safety and security lies in the hands of our Savior, our Creator, our God. He holds all things together. He keeps those in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him.

This section of verses ends with this often repeated phrase in Ezekiel: “Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God.” The trials of life and the judgments of the Lord should point us to Him. They should be a reminder to us that He is God and we are not. They should encourage believers in that their faith is in the one true God, the Lord of glory, the Redeemer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Will You Stand in the Gap?

"So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one." -Ezekiel 22:30

This is perhaps one of the saddest verses in Scripture. God searching for someone to be an advocate for the land of Israel and He finds no one. Therefore, God poured out His indignation against the land and consumed them with the fire of His wrath (v. 31).

My thought is simple this morning (as it is every morning I'm sure!). Will you stand in the gap? Will you fill a role that is needed in the kingdom of God? Surely, the Lord is searching for men and women to 'fill the gap' and share the good news of Calvary's cross with the lost and dying of this world.

"The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." -Matthew 9:37-38

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

That's Not Fair!...Or Is It?

"Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair? "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!" -Ezekiel 18:29-32

When things don't go our way we often complain against the Lord and tell Him that 'it isn't fair.' We complain because our sense of justice has been violated. We complain because we don't get our way. We complain because the Lord hasn't acted how we want Him to act. Let me ask you a question: Is it not possible that God's sense of justice and fairness is higher than yours?

I would say that it is not only possible, it is probable. God had dealt justly with Israel. He had blessed their obedience in the past, and now He is going to punish their disobedience. He had told them that if they followed Him they would be blessed and would live, but if they followed other gods, they would be punished and die. That is completely fair according to God's standards.

But Israel didn't like this. Israel wanted to live according to their standards, do whatever they wanted, seek whatever gods they wanted. Therefore, the Lord was going to punish them. But the Lord didn't punish them without giving them another opportunity to make things right. God issued another call to repentance. He gave them another chance. He offered them life through turning from their sin to God. He offered them a new heart and a new spirit. 

Do you, like Israel, believe that God is not fair? Do you think that He should act according to your standards? O, sinner, repent from your evil way, cast aside your sin and live! God will give you a new heart and a new spirit. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. 

God's sense of justice is so much more perfect than ours. He acts according to His standard. He judges rightly. But He is also a merciful God. He rewards those who turn to Him with life. Turn to the Lord and live!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sinful People, Everlasting Covenant

And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done," says the Lord GOD.' " -Ezekiel 16:62-63

Ezekiel just finished describing how the people of Israel had been cared for by the Lord and how they played the harlot with other nations and other gods. The Israelites were so wicked, in fact, that God said even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were to walk through the land, they would be the only ones spared because of their righteousness. 

Picture Abraham interceding for Sodom. He asked God to spare the city for just ten righteous people. God said that He would spare the city if there were ten righteous people. There weren't, and only Lot escaped with his daughters. Here in Ezekiel, there is really no difference. God says that there is no one righteous, they have all played the harlot and done detestable, abominable things before God.

Yet God also says that He will establish with them an everlasting covenant and provide atonement for their wickedness. This is God's grace. Israel had done nothing to deserve God's favor. They had done everything to deserve His wrath. But God, in His mercy and grace, will establish an everlasting covenant with Israel. Truly, God is not done with Israel. He never will be, for He has given them this everlasting covenant.

"Then you shall know that I am the Lord" This phrase keeps popping up all over the book of Ezekiel. Though Israel had forgotten who the Lord was and what He had done for them, He would work among them so that they would know that He is the Lord. He is the covenant God, the Almighty, the All-Gracious, the All-Merciful God. This sinful people would know that God loves them.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Book Review: Slave - The Hidden Truth About Your Identity In Christ

By John MacArthur
212 pages, Thomas Nelson Publishers

I got this book free from GTY about six months ago, and just yesterday found time to pick it up and read it. To tell you the truth, I was a bit skeptical about it, as I am about any book that claims to discover 'new' and 'hidden truth'. I saw the book trailer before the book actually came out and read some interesting discussions on it so I had some insight as to what it was about. I don't believe, as the subtitle suggests, that MacArthur was discovering a new truth that has been hidden for generations. He simply explains that this truth isn't presented clearly or consistently in our English Bibles, with which I agree.

This book is about one word, doulos (slave in Greek), and the relationship to God we have as a result of that one word. The book came about as a result of John's reading a book by Murray J. Harris called Slave of Christ. John was fascinated by the number of times the word doulos is used in the New Testament to describe believers. So in this book, MacArthur shows us what the cultural and logical implications of the word 'slave' brings to our relationship with Christ.

I whole-heartedly agree with MacArthur that we are slaves of the Lord, and that He alone is our Sovereign Master. I enjoyed reading what MacArthur has discovered about slavery in the Roman world as well as slavery in the Old Testament Israelite culture. It truly is encouraging to see all the nuances that this one word brings out in our relationship with Christ. This book is easy to read, and keeps the reader interested right up to the last pages.

To preface what I'm about to say, let me tell you that I believe in the total depravity of man, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. I do not hold to unconditional election or limited atonement. I do believe in the doctrine of election, but not to the Calvinist extreme. I also believe that salvation is not limited to a specific number of people, but is available to all.

Now, I do want to take time to note that MacArthur takes considerable time in this book to promote "the doctrines of grace." I disagree with MacArthur on the points of unconditional election and limited atonement, which he cleverly renames as "sovereign election" and "particular redemption." This isn't the place to fully discuss "the doctrines of grace" (Calvinism), but suffice it to say that I believe MacArthur's arguments for sovereign election and particular redemption are lacking.

This book is very helpful in debunking some modern myths of Christianity and getting back to a New Testament, apostolic understanding of what it means to be a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. I recommend this book, but be fore-warned that there is a strong Calvinist bent in this book (as there is in most of MacArthur's books). If you can get beyond that, this book will be encouraging and uplifting as you see what the believer's true identity in Christ is.

Falling Flat

“Then the hand of the LORD was upon me there, and He said to me, “Arise, go out into the plain, and there I shall talk with you.” So I arose and went out into the plain, and behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, like the glory of which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face. Then the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet…” –Ezekiel 3:22-24a

How do you respond when you encounter the Lord? Do you scoff at Him? Do you run away? Do you get angry with God? Do you tell Him all your problems? Do you pay attention to what He has to say to you? Do you stand in amazement of who He is? Or, like Ezekiel, do you fall on your face before Him?

Ezekiel knew what it meant to be in the presence of the Lord. He probably knew what the Israelites said in Deuteronomy 5:26: “For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?” Ezekiel knew that where he was standing was one of the most privileged places he could ever be. He was standing before the glory of the Lord God. He responded correctly by falling on his face before God.

As believers, we are encouraged, even commanded to come boldly before the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4). But there still needs to be a realization of who it is we are actually going before for help. When we enter the presence of the Lord through prayer, we are bringing ourselves before the Almighty God, the Lord of hosts, the living God. We stand before the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present God who sent His Son to provide the only way of salvation for us. So when we enter the presence of the Lord, we stand on holy ground.

The proper response would be for us to fall on our faces before Him. We must realize that we are nothing in His sight and without Him, we can do nothing. Ezekiel demonstrates for us the principle we find in James 4:10: “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Ezekiel didn’t stand before God and plead his case. He didn’t try and defend himself, or say anything at all. He merely fell before the Lord, humbled to be in the presence of the Almighty. When Ezekiel showed his humble attitude, the Lord lifted him up and set him on his feet.

So I ask again, how do you respond to an encounter with the living God? May I suggest you humbly fall flat on your face before Him and let Him lift you up.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Review: Ashamed of the Gospel - When the Church Becomes Like the World

By John MacArthur
3rd edition, 304 pages

I have been chipping away at this book for about six months now. I originally intended to read it last year when I received it from Grace To You, but ended up giving that copy to my dad. So I had to borrow a copy, and it has been quite a difficult book to get through. This isn't a book for casual thinkers, and it isn't a book to try and read in a day.

The main theme of Ashamed of the Gospel is to issue a call to return to the biblical gospel. MacArthur parallels what is happening on the scene of evangelicalism today with what happened in Charles H. Spurgeon's day in the down-grade controversy. He points out that the same shifts in the church that happened in Spurgeon's day are happening now. The church is becoming increasingly like the world in philosophy, practice, and purpose. John MacArthur faithfully declares the words of the Apostle Paul: "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" -2 Timothy 4:2-5

I enjoyed reading this book even though there were days when I hated how long it was taking me. MacArthur does a great job chronicling the rise of pragmatism in the church and its marriage with post-modernism. This book will help you understand what is happening on the scene of American Christianity. What I find the most shocking, is how many people within the church are caught up in the teachings of pragmatism, post-modernism, and emergent thinking. Too many people I know read books by proponents of these schools of thought, and declare their words to be authoritative.

The lack of discernment in the church is killing the church. Consumerism in the church has trained the average church-goer to accept whatever is given them from the pulpit and swallow it. Churches need men and women who, like the Bereans of Acts 17, will search the Scriptures daily to see if what they are learning is true. Ashamed of the Gospel will help you understand the dangers of post-modern thinking that is permeating the church. This book will arm you with a defense against it, and it will point you to the Scripture to show the error being taught today.

Dirty Worship

“I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” –Amos 5:21-24

It’s very easy to fall into an ominous pattern in worship. We are creatures of habit, and we like routine. Think about it. Every Sunday we go to church and can pretty much guarantee what the order of service will be. Sometimes we can even predict the songs that will be sung. Some days it just seems mundane.

There is nothing wrong with having a pattern to follow, or with knowing what the order of service is, but there is a problem when our heart isn’t in it. There is a problem when our worship becomes so ordinary that we fail to deal with sin before we come to worship. All too often we come before the Lord with dirty worship. We offer him our praise, laced with the murk and mud of sin. Do we really think that this is acceptable to God? Do we really think that we have pleased him?

We must heed the words of Psalm 24:3-4 – “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” Matthew 5:23-24 tells us to deal with any broken relationships before we worship. James tells us to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord and to deal with our sin.

Our worship is of no value to God when it is tainted by our sin. Our worship is of no value to God if it is simply vain repetition. Our worship is only pleasing to God when we let “justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Only then will we be acceptable to God in our worship.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Steadiness in an Unsteady World

“Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard. Indeed, I will pray to the LORD your God according to your words, and it shall be, that whatever the LORD answers you, I will declare it to you. I will keep nothing back.” –Jeremiah 42:4

As I read through the book of Jeremiah, I’m amazed at Jeremiah’s faithfulness. He was faithful when there wasn’t any opposition, and he was faithful when the people to whom he was speaking tried to kill him. I believe that Jeremiah had to hold on to his first experience of hearing from the Lord. He remembered his calling, and what God had promised to him. This enabled him to walk steadily with his God and faithfully fulfill the words God wanted Jeremiah to speak.

It is easy to lose sight of your calling, especially in the midst of a conflict or major crisis. We get focused on the circumstances. We forget that God has called us and promised to protect us. We start trusting in our own ability and then undoubtedly we get frustrated with ourselves. We end up stumbling along, riding the waves of emotions and circumstances. This makes it much harder--even impossible--to keep a steady walk with God. 

Remember your calling. Remember what God has promised to you. Only then will you be able to be faithful as Jeremiah was faithful. He was able, even in the midst of a crisis, to say that he would declare the words of the Lord and keep nothing back. Only then will you be able to keep steady in the midst of an unsteady world.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Discovering God through Experience

“Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You. You show lovingkindness to thousands, and repay the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them—the Great, the Mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts.” –Jeremiah 32:17-18

Jeremiah learned just who God was from personal experience. He had witnessed the protection of the Lord when all the people around him wanted to kill him. Jeremiah had seen impossible situations worked out only by the hand of God. He also knew that despite the destruction and captivity that God had pronounced against Israel, God was still a God of lovingkindness and mercy.

Often we learn from experience the attributes of God. We learn that God is holy, for He often seems so distant (because of our sin). We learn that He is just when He deals with our sin. We learn that God is all-powerful through seeing Him heal the sick. We discover that God is all-knowing through His provisions for us. We learn so many things about God through our personal experiences.

We need to learn more about God through our experiences. Look for God’s outstretched hand in your life. Look for the things that only He can do. Learn to discover who God is through the difficult trials and the joyous days of victory. When you open your eyes and look for God in your life, you will find that He is working great and mighty things. You will find that He is the Great, the Mighty God—El Gabor—and you will find that He shows lovingkindness to thousands.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock

By Iain H. Murray
Banner of Truth Trust
240 pages

I received this book free from Grace To You at the end of last week. I had read a couple short reviews of it on the blogosphere (Challies and Anyabwile) and was looking forward to cracking it open. So Sunday, after I had finished reviewing my PM sermon, of course, I had a couple of hours to dive in. Between Sunday afternoon, and yesterday being a holiday, I finished the book.

 Let me tell you, this is a great book, though not what I expected. I have not read any other Iain Murray books (yet), so I didn’t know what to expect as far as writing style. I enjoyed the style. He does a great job chronicling the various decades of MacArthur’s life and ministry while simultaneously keeping the reader engaged with narrative. I think that Murray’s works on D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon will be well worth a read in the future.

When I heard of the book I expected it to focus mainly on MacArthur’s ministry at Grace Community Church, with some emphasis on his writing and tape ministry. What I found was exactly the opposite. Murray focuses mainly upon the spread of the tape and writing ministry throughout the world, and then devotes a couple chapters specifically to the ministry at Grace Community Church.

Personally, I would have liked to see a more in-depth look at MacArthur’s ministry in the church at Sun Valley rather than how MacArthur’s influence has spread throughout the world. That said, I didn’t mind how this book was written, and I learned much about the spread of Grace To You in the past four decades. I especially enjoyed Murray’s chapter that focused on Patricia MacArthur and John’s family life. It was encouraging to me, a young pastor, to see that example of godly parents teaching their children around the breakfast table.

This is a good book for anyone interested in the life and ministry of John MacArthur, whether you are a fan or not. I have my theological bones to pick with MacArthur, but I find his ministry a compelling example of faithfulness to God’s Word and to God’s people. Praise God for this faithful servant of the Word and flock. I was encouraged by this ‘sketch’ by Murray, and trust you will be too.

God's Man Got God's Protection

‘Now it happened, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him, saying, “You will surely die!”’ –Jeremiah 26:8

Have you ever found yourself in perfect obedience to the Lord, yet people still want to kill you (or at least drive you out of town)? Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed God’s Word to the people exactly the way God wanted Him to, yet the people went off the deep end because the word that Jeremiah spoke was against their city. It wasn’t the word that they wanted to hear. Jeremiah found himself taken by an angry mob of people just for obeying the Lord.

I believe that the people were angry because Jeremiah’s words uncovered the sinfulness of their hearts. Jeremiah showed that the people didn’t love God. They loved their city. They had a great big idol that they worshiped. Jeremiah uncovered the ugly reality of this idol. He showed that it was putrid to the Lord, and that the Lord was going to take it all away. The people got angry because the Lord was going to take away what they loved. He was going to take away their object of worship.

When we faithfully proclaim all the words that God wants us to proclaim, we will undoubtedly confront sinful, idolatrous people. The word of God is…a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. God reveals man’s sinfulness through His word. For most people, their perverted pride makes them angry when they are confronted with sin. They don’t like to hear that their lifestyles are sinful and that the Lord opposes them. But that is exactly what they need to hear.

Jeremiah’s people were angry because of this word from the Lord. But they realized that the word was from the Lord and they didn’t kill Jeremiah. Truly the Lord protected Jeremiah through this situation, and caused the people to see their sin for what it was. Jeremiah’s responsibility was to faithfully proclaim the Lord. God would protect him, and He did.

Jeremiah is an example to us ministers to faithfully proclaim all the words that God has given us to proclaim, regardless of what sin it might uncover. May God use His word as He sees fit, and grant us divine protection in the process!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bad Shepherds Beware!

'"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD.' -Jeremiah 23:1

Shepherding God's flock is a privilege. If God has put you in a position of shepherding, He has trusted immense responsibility to you. Think about it, you are to watch out for people's souls (Hebrews 13:17). As a shepherd, you are to lead the flock by example (1 Peter 5:3-4), feed the flock (John 21:17), and oversee the flock as a servant leader. This is a monumental undertaking. 

God takes it very seriously when His shepherds fail to care for the flock that God has entrusted them with. He says here in Jeremiah, "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" Ouch. Apparently, some of the leaders of Israel had failed tremendously in their shepherding responsibility. Instead of nurturing and caring for the people, they had destroyed and scattered the people. Israel was in rough shape, and God places the blame upon the shepherds.

This should serve as a warning to us pastors to shepherd God's flock with all love and care. We must seek to build people up and unite the 'sheep' around the Gospel of Christ. May we be faithful to God's call and lead the flock with a humble, loving, Christlike example.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Frustrated with God?

"Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make." -Jeremiah 18:3-4

These are some of my favorite verses in Scripture. The Lord revealed to Jeremiah that we are just like clay in the hands of a potter. We also get a glimpse at what God is doing in each one of us. Look at what it says the potter is doing. The clay was marred in the hand of the potter, so he made it again into another vessel.

God is doing something amazing in your life. He is taking you, a marred vessel, and making you into something new. Right now you are broken and imperfect, you have sinful character flaws and sinful habits. You try to be a good 'vessel' but you can't. Be encouraged. The Lord, the Potter, is making you into something new. He is fixing you and soon you will be a new vessel.

So don't get discouraged with what God is doing. He is the Potter, you are the clay. You have no right to question what He is doing. Just let Him work, trusting yourself fully to His sovereign will. Soon you will be a new vessel, completely useful to the Potter. Don't get frustrated with God.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Another Fun Video of Jodie...

A Fun Video of Jodie...

A Few Fun Pictures...

Here's a couple family pictures:

How Deep Are Your Roots?

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is in the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leave will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” –Jeremiah 17:7-8

There are a lot of days that go by when I feel that God has specifically turned the heat on me. It seems that each trial I face in the day was designed to make me weaker, or it set me up to fail. Sometimes I even get mad at God and tell Him that He doesn’t know what He’s doing, putting all these trials in my life.

Then I read a couple short verses in Jeremiah 17. They hit me square between the eyes and challenge my thinking. Do I trust in the Lord? Do I hope in the Lord? The answer to both those questions is a resounding yes, so I keep reading. The man that trusts and hopes in the Lord is like a tree planted by waters. The roots go deep and spread out, they go deeper than the surface dirt.

Then the heat comes. And the heat will come, but this tree, because its roots go deep, will not get dried up in the heat. This tree will not fear the heat, but will welcome it. The roots are deep, much deeper than the shallow ground that will dry up in the midst of the heat of a drought. This tree will continue to bear fruit through it all.

This is what my life and your life can look like in the midst of a trial. We can set our roots deep in the Lord, fully trusting Him. We can go beyond the shallow ground and dig deep into His Word to find hope. Then, when trials come, we will be unaffected by the heat and we will still bear fruit in the midst of the drought.

Do you trust the Lord? Do you hope in the Lord?