Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thankful for Memories: A Christmas Letter

Genealogy is one of my favorite hobbies. I find it especially gratifying to get acquainted with ancestors that I otherwise never could have known. For instance, I never met my great-grandfather, Rev. Frank J. Scribner (he died four years before I was born), but I am quite certain that I would have greatly enjoyed him. Not only did he share my ministerial calling, but by all accounts he was a generous, intelligent, and loving man. He had a quick wit and was a maestro in the art of turning a phrase. I don't know that my dad ever came out and said it, but I'm pretty sure that he was the man my dad most admired.

One of the primary means through which I have gotten to know him is through the reading of his journals, his sermons, his book, and his various personal correspondences. Among these are this Christmas letter which he penned 60 years ago. Reading it has become part of of my holiday tradition, just like singing carols, decorating the tree, or setting up the Nativity scene.

Despite tradition and most portrayals of the Nativity, in reality there is no more than a 1/12 chance that the visit of the Magi came in December. Every December though, I experience the gift of being visited by this wise man. I hope you will enjoy reading his Christmas letter and be blessed by it as well.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Blessed Dawn of Christmas Day

 Another one of my favorites from Harry Connick Jr.:

The blessed dawn of Christmas day
As honestly as children pray
The warmth that melts the eve away
The holiness of alpenglow

I rose to join the glorious morn
Whose calm and splendor would adorn
The virgin mother's infant born
The blessed dawn of Christmas day

The hearts of sinners reconciled
Amid the ancient morrow mild
Exalt the birth of Mary's child
The blessed dawn of Christmas day

I pray one day my heart will see
The light of God's eternity
And know that Jesus died for me
Now close, my eyes
So I may rise
At blessed dawn of Christmas day

Published by
Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

I Pray on Christmas

I pray on Christmas
That the Lord will see me through
I pray on Christmas
He'll show me what to do

I pray on Christmas
He'll help me understand
And I pray on Christmas
He'll take me by the hand

I pray on Christmas
That the sick will soon be strong
I pray on Christmas
The lord will hear my song

I pray on Christmas
That God will lead the way
And I pray on Christmas
He'll get me through another day

I pray on Christmas
I pray on Christmas
I pray on Christmas
He'll get me through another day

I pray on Christmas
All our problems gonna be worked out
I pray on Christmas
God'll show us what love's about

I pray on Christmas
To do your will each day
And I pray on Christmas
That I'll be with you in heaven some day

I pray on Christmas 
Oh, the sick will soon be strong
I pray on Christmas
The lord will hear my song

I pray on Christmas
That God will lead the way
And I pray I really pray on Christmas
He'll get me through another day
He'll get me through another day...

Published by
Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Minister's Regrets

I was introduced to Geoff Thomas some years back at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary Conference that I attend each August. Thomas is a Welsh pastor who has served the congregation of Alfred Place Baptist Church for over fifty years.

The other day a friend shared with me a post that Thomas wrote in 2011 for Banner of Truth. In it, he drew from his considerable experience and shared what his greatest regrets have been in his half-century as a minister. He listed eight in all, and they were all convicting for this minister.

That said, the last one stood out above the rest. What a passionate, familiar, heart-felt expression of both regret and glorious gospel truth there is in these words:
I am sorry that my love for Jesus Christ is cool and shallow. ‘Weak is the effort of my heart and cold my warmest thought.’ It was true for Newton and it is true for us today. Sometimes I think, ‘Do I love him at all?’ Where is the affection, the glow, the delight and anticipation of meeting with him? M’Cheyne wrote in his diary, ‘Rose early to meet him whom my soul loves. Who would not rise early to meet such company?’ I wish that that reflected my own heart’s longing for the Saviour. I wish I could give myself to him anew each Sunday, thinking, ‘I am going to go where the Lord Jesus is.’ When I have nothing else to think about I wish my mind naturally gravitated to him. Here is someone who laid down his life for me. This is the one who delivered me from hell. Behold my Saviour who is taking me to glory for ever. Here is my beloved and here is my friend who is working all things together for my good. This dear Lord of mine is going to do an eternal makeover on my whole life. The Lord Jesus is my personal teacher and personal trainer and personal counsellor and personal bodyguard. He can protect me from the biggest devil in hell. Christ is so fascinating a personality, wise, caring, fresh, creative, stimulating, patient and so kind to me. It is my chief complaint, that my love is weak and faint. I who encourage others to love him am amazed that I can love him so little, but what is more amazing is the fact that I love him at all.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

It's NOT Just Like 2008 & 2012

I’ve heard some of my Republican friends say today, “I know exactly how the Democrats feel, because it’s how I felt in 2008 & 2012.” The reality is though, that for many, this is an altogether different situation:
  • There are women who have been sexually abused, who feel like this election has told them that the actions of their attacker didn’t really matter…
  • There are African-Americans who feel like this election has told them that their country would like to undo the progress that’s been made over the last 150 years…
  • There are legal immigrants and their children who feel like this election has told them that they are not welcome in this country, the country they call home…
  • There are people with disabilities who feel like this election has told them that they exist only to be the butt of other people’s jokes…
  • There are people of certain religions who feel like this election has told them that the protection of the law afforded by the first amendment doesn’t apply to them…
Now you may disagree with how these people interpret the results of this election--that's certainly your right. The fact remains though that this IS how they interpret them. And the feelings they have as a result are very real. And they are very different than the feelings you had in 2008 & 2012.

If you are a member of the GOP, your candidate won the election and you can be happy about that. But (especially if you are a Christian) please show some compassion for those who are not just sad to have lost an election, but are hurting at a very deep level as a result of it. 

Often Republicans are caricatured as mean, hateful, backwards bigots. Take this opportunity to prove the caricature wrong. Only then can we even start to think about what it might look like to move forward together as "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Wouldn't it be great for those to not just be empty words, but a national way of life?

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Look Beyond the Election

I've posted the following thoughts before, but given that the election is rapidly approaching, I felt like I wanted to re-state these truths (with a few very minor adaptations to fit our current context).

Election day is tomorrow in the United States of America. Not only will the presidential election be held, but votes will be cast for and against many other candidates and issues.  As an American, you have a right to express your opinions and vote for the candidates that you feel best represent them. Some would argue that these are not just your rights, but your responsibility.  So go ahead and vote.

As you vote though--especially if you're a Christian--I want to remind you of these important facts: Regardless of who is ultimately elected, 
  • They will serve not just because they got the most votes, but because it is the will of God that they do so (Romans 13:1), even if it's not "your candidate."
  • As such, and in light of their position, they are entitled to our respect (1 Peter 2:17), even if it's not "your candidate."
  • We are to pray, intercede and give thanks for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2), even if it's not "your candidate."
Ultimately, we need to remember that whoever wins this (or any election), we must not fall into the trap of believing that their election will fix (or ruin) everything. Things are already pretty messed up, and that goes back not to any decision made by a politician, but to Adam’s decision in the Garden of Eden to forsake the will of God (Genesis 3:17-19).

There is One coming though who will set all things right. But he will not come to power on the basis of the electoral college in accordance with the laws of the land. Rather he will come with power that is already his in accordance with the promises of God (Revelation 21:1-5).

Regardless of political trends and election results, may our ultimate prayer on election day (and every day) be this: Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Don't Vote Your Fears; Vote Your Faith

This is an excerpt from a sermon delivered at Calvary Presbyterian Church on October 16, 2016 entitled, "The Power of Christ."

Think about the Apostle Paul and some of the hardships he faced. He speaks about these in 2 Corinthians 11:
  • Hardship in labors
  • Many imprisonments
  • Countless beatings, often up to the very doorstep of death
  • 5x received 39 lashes
  • 3x beaten with rods
  • Once stoned
  • 3x shipwrecked, including one night & day adrift at sea
  • Danger from all directions and all sorts of enemies
  • Sleepless nights,
  • Hunger and thirst
  • Cold & exposure
And in the face of ALL OF THIS, he says in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” He trusts in the power of God.

Then you look at us, coming into next month’s election, and we are filled with fear. There are those among us who can’t fathom voting for Hillary Clinton, and you're scared of what our country will become. Others among us can’t imagine voting for Donald Trump and you're terrified at the prospects of him being President. Yet others of us have consciences which won’t allow us to vote for either of them, and we fear what is going to become of our nation either way.

I plead with you, on November 8, step into a voting booth and cast your vote. Do so prayerfully; do so thoughtfully; but do so in faith, trusting in God and not making a decision based on fear. The same Jesus that enabled Paul to be content in all situations is sovereignly in control of this election.

As my friend Chuck Jacob wisely once said: "The Kingdom of God will not arrive on the wings of Air Force One."

Often we say that the President is the most powerful person in the world. That is a lie. The most powerful person in our world was, is, and always will be JESUS CHRIST. It was true when he created the world, it is true today, and it will be that way for all of eternity.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Growth Pains

This Sunday in church, we sang a new hymn. Actually, it's not a new hymn, per se, just a new hymn for our congregation. Its words were written almost 250 years ago by John Newton (who also wrote Amazing Grace and many other hymns).

In an age where so many in the church seem to promise nothing but smiles and happiness for those who follow Jesus, our own experiences can quickly disavow us of such thinking. Sanctification is a struggle and the march to humble holiness is a long, hard, and (at times) painful one. For this reason, hymns like this one are necessary. I know it speaks to my experience. Perhaps it speaks to yours as well.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Brief Thought on How We Should Respond

If my wife were to tell me that she doesn't feel loved by me, my response ought not to be to share anecdotal and empirical evidence with her, excusing my actions and thereby disproving the validity of her perception. To even attempt to do this is to actually verify that her perception, as it turns out, was accurate. Rather, my duty in such a situation is to listen to her concerns and work my hardest from this point forward to demonstrate my love to her in such a way that she might indeed know that it is real.

When my African American brothers and sisters (who I claim to love) tell me that they feel marginalized, oppressed, devalued and threatened by the larger culture of which I am a part, in the same way, it ought not to be my response to share anecdotal and empirical evidence with them, excusing our actions and thereby disproving the validity of their perception.  Rather, my duty in such a situation is to listen to their concerns and work my hardest from this point forward to demonstrate my love to them in such a way that they might indeed know that it is real.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Thomas Watson on How Faith is Wrought

How is faith wrought?

By the blessed Spirit; who is called the "Spirit of grace," because he is the spring of all grace (Zech 12:10). Faith is the chief work which the Spirit of God works in a man's heart. In making the world God did but speak a word—but in working faith he puts forth his arm (Luke 1:51). The Spirit's working faith is called, "The exceeding greatness of God's power" (Eph 1:19). What a power was put forth in raising Christ from the grave when such a tombstone lay upon him as the sins of all the world—yet he was raised up by the Spirit. The same power is put forth by the Spirit of God, in working faith. The Spirit irradiates the mind, and subdues the will. The will is like a garrison, which holds out against God: the Spirit with sweet violence conquers, or rather changes it; making the sinner willing to have Christ upon any terms; to be ruled by him as well as saved by him.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Light in the Darkness

It was still dark Sunday morning as I drove to church, when my eyes beheld the most beautiful sight. Hanging against the backdrop of a black sky, a big, beautiful full moon shone brightly. To be sure, there was an attractiveness that the moon had in and of itself, but it was made all the more luminous in contrast with the darkness of the morning sky which surrounded it. I wondered at its beauty there, the only celestial object my eyes were able to behold at this early morning hour, and then the enigmatic truth struck me: Even as my world was shrouded in darkness and the sun was at this moment obscured from my eyes, it was still the source of the light that made the moon so radiant.

As I continued on my way, it occurred to me that we too, as Christians, are to shine brightly against the backdrop of our setting. We live in a world which is at times exceedingly dark, and people should note the contrast when they see our lives. It should be a thing of breath-taking beauty. This is only possible because (just like the moon) the light with which we shine does not emanate from within us. Rather, it is a reflection of the Son, who (for a time) is also hidden from our sight. But his light shining in and through us is a reminder to ourselves and to others that he will return; light will overcome darkness and it will be day once again.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Peace on Earth, Good-Will to Men

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)
With the confluence of the Advent season and mass shootings occurring at (what should be) alarming rates, I am reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Christmas Bells." It was penned during a time of great personal pain for Longfellow. As the Civil War raged, Longfellow lamented the loss of his wife to a terrible accident and the near-fatal injuries his son had sustained in battle. He described the dissonance within his own heart at hearing Christmas bells wring out, "Peace on earth, good-will to men!" while his own experiences demonstrated anything but.
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
But even as Longfellow's circumstances truly were terrible, they would not get the final word. Instead, he turned his attention to what he knew to be true about the loving God who superintends those circumstances:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
This Christmas season, may the bells (and all the other trappings) of Christmas remind us that just as Jesus came once, he is coming again. And when he does, he will set all things to rights, for it is his heart that there should be "peace on earth, good-will toward men." In a world filled with so much Wrong, I can think of no greater encouragement than the knowledge that the Right will indeed prevail!

But let's take it a step further, shall we? For if this idea of "peace on earth, good-will to men" is important to Jesus, then it should also be important to those of us who are his followers. Therefore, let us take tangible steps to promote peace, to demonstrate good-will:
  • Love your neighbor, even when they're not very lovely
  • Forgive those who have wronged you, even though they don't deserve it
  • Seek reconciliation with those with whom you are at odds
  • Focus less on how we've been wronged (be it as individuals or as a group) and spend more time prayerfully considering where we might have been wronged by others
  • Humbly seek forgiveness from others regardless of whether they're willing to admit the wrong that they've done
  • Pray (really pray) for those who are your enemies 
  • Show respect to everyone, as those who bear the image of God, even if you disagree vehemently with them on the most fundamental and important of issues
In doing these types of things, we will truly be followers of Christ, those who are about "peace on earth, good-will to men."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stott on Having a God-Directed View of Prayer

"It will be seen that the fundamental difference between various kinds of prayer is in the fundamentally different images of God which lie behind them. The tragic mistake of Pharisees and pagans, of hypocrites and heathen, is to be found in their false image of God. Indeed, neither is really thinking of God at all, for the hypocrite thinks only of himself while the heathen thinks of other things. What sort of God is it who might be interested in such selfish and mindless prayers? Is God a commodity that we can use to boost our own status, or a computer that we can feed words into him mechanically."

John Stott
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Get a case of 40 Bibles for $40

Westminster Seminary Bookstore is running a great special right now. Get a case of
40 Bibles for $40. At our church, we keep a bunch of these on hand so we can give them to visitors or anyone else who might have need of a Bible. The ESV is a great translation (my preferred one, in fact) and you'll never beat the price.

The special only runs while supplies last, so be sure to act now!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Give us this day our daily bread...

"The prayer for bread in this petition should be allowed to remain, first of all, a prayer for bread. At times in the church's exposition this bread has been turned into spiritual bread...It is possible to be more spiritual than God. Why would Jesus who fed his five thousand not want us to pray for the feeding of our six billion? And while Jesus says that man does not live by bread alone, he is too realistic to say that man does not live by bread at all."

Frederick Dale Bruner
Matthew: A Commentary, Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Calvin on Why We Pray

“But if God knows what things we have need of, before we ask him, where lies the advantage of prayer? If he is ready, of his own free will, to assist us, what purpose does it serve to employ our prayers, which interrupt the spontaneous course of his providence? The very design of prayer furnishes an easy answer. Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things. God himself, on the other hand, has purposed freely, and without being asked, to bestow blessings upon us; but he promises that he will grant them to our prayers. We must, therefore, maintain both of these truths, that He freely anticipates our wishes, and yet that we obtain by prayer what we ask. As to the reason why he sometimes delays long to answer us, and sometimes even does not grant our wishes, an opportunity of considering it will afterwards occur.”

John Calvin
Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, volume 1