Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kevin DeYoung on Our Use of Music in Worship

Kevin DeYoung had two great posts this week dealing with how we incorporate music into our public worship (Part 1 and Part 2). As with much that Kevin writes, I highly recommend that you read them. Whether your church's worship style is "traditional" or "contemporary" (or whatever other options are out there these days), you can surely benefit from what Kevin has to say.

He offers the following ten principles that ought to guide our use of music in worship.  And again, please see his two posts (Part 1 and Part 2) for more detailed explanation of these points.
1. Love is indispensable to church singing that pleases God.
2. Our singing is for God’s glory and the edification of the body of Christ.
3. We ought to sing to the Lord new songs.
4. Church singing should swim in its own history of church singing.
5. Sing the Psalms.
6. We should strive for excellence in the musicality and the poetry of the songs we sing.
7. The main sound to be heard in the worship music is the sound of the congregation singing.
8. The congregation should also be stretched from time to time to learn new songs and broaden its musical horizons.
9. The texts of our songs should be matched with fitting musicality and instrumentation.
10.All of our songs should employ manifestly biblical lyrics.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...John Newton on God's Guidance

"In general, he guides and directs his people, by affording them, in answer to prayer, the light of his Holy Spirit, which enables them to understand and to love the Scriptures.  The word of God is not to be used as a lottery; nor is it designed to instruct us by shreds and scraps, which, detached from their proper places, have no determinate import; but it is to furnish us with just principles, right apprehensions to regulate our judgments and affections, and thereby influence and direct our conduct."

John Newton

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb - TN EP

I'm by no means a musical expert.  Truth be told, I'm not all that up on the musical scene.  That being said, I do know enough to know that Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb are two of my favorite musicians going today.

After both experiencing success on their own, the husband and wife team has in recent years turned to more collaboration in their projects, releasing the album Ampersand EP in 2008, and following that up with TN EP, which was just released today.

Take a look and a listen below at the video of the album's first song, From You to Me, and if you're so inclined, click here to purchase the album.  For what it's worth, I certainly recommend it.  It includes five original songs as well as interesting and entertaining covers of Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time and Simon & Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence.

What Makes a Remarkable Elder?

In this clip, D.A. Carson takes a look at the biblical requirements for elders/overseers.  Ultimately, as he points out, "elders are first of all to be exemplars of the Christian graces that are presupposed as mandated on all Christians."

(HT: Todd Rhoades)

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Brother's Loving Embrace

Today, in the "A La Carte" section of his fantastic blog, Tim Challies posted the following video of a United States Marine who is serving in Afghanistan surprising his sister by showing up at her college graduation.  Tim asks us to consider the question, "What is it in us that turns on the waterworks when we see something like it?"

I would argue that, similarly to what I suggest here, perhaps it is because it taps into the longing that is implanted in our hearts to one day see our brother, our warrior, our champion face to face, when he returns to take us into his loving embrace.

Check out the video...and keep the tissues handy.

Friday Fun (Monday Mirth?)...The Horse Race

This morning I saw the latest mission from Improv Everywhere and I knew I had to include it as a Friday Fun post. The only problem is I didn't want to wait until Friday.

A Word for Preachers...Calvin on Constantly Learning from God's Word

"We must all be pupils of the Holy Scriptures, even to the end; even those, I mean, who are appointed to proclaim the Word. If we enter into the pulpit, it is on this condition, that we learn while teaching others. I am not speaking here merely that others may hear me; but I too, for my part, must be a pupil of God, and the word which goes forth from my lips must profit myself; otherwise woe is me! The most accomplished in the Scripture are fools, unless they acknowledge that they have need of God for their schoolmaster all the days of their life."

John Calvin

Friday, June 24, 2011

Back from the Dead...The Demand for a Sign

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and BackRecently I have seen a number of blog entries by people about the book Heaven is for Real as well as (by extension) 90 Minutes in Heaven.  Both books, which have sold millions of copies, deal with the first person accounts of people who claim to have died and gone to heaven, only to return to life as we know it.

I haven’t read either book.  Though I'm certain I would take issue with some of the things said in them, I’m equally sure that many people have been blessed through reading them.  My interest here is not to criticize the content of these books. 

What I would like to address is the fact that there is such a hunger in the first place for this type of book.  It would seem that their primary focus is to reassure people that heaven actually is a real place that awaits (at least some of) us after death.  I find it curious that we need someone, be it an experienced pastor or a four-year-old boy, to tell us that there is a heaven, as if there was a doubt.  What is it about their word which we find more reliable than the Word of God?  Jesus already told us there is a heaven.  Didn't this pretty much solved the matter?

The reality is though, we are always demanding signs from God.  It is true today, just as it was in Biblical times.  In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus told of a rich man in Hades, calling out to Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus (a poor man who had also died) back as a messenger to his family members so that they might believe.

There are any number of issues I would take with the particulars of Roman Catholic theology, but Pope Benedict XVI hits the nail on the head with the following words from his work, Jesus of Nazareth:
The rich man, looking up to Abraham from Hades, says what so many people, both then and now, say or would like to say to God: "If you really want us to believe in you and organize our lives in accord with the revealed word of the Bible, you'll have to make yourself clearer. Send us someone from the next world who can tell us that it is really so." The demand for signs, the demand for more evidence of Revelation, is an issue that runs through the entire Gospel. Abraham's answer -- like Jesus' answer to his contemporaries' demand for signs in other contexts -- is clear: If people do not believe the word of Scripture, then they will not believe someone coming from the next world either. 
But God has indeed graciously given us a sign.  Benedict goes on to write,
One thing is clear: God's sign for men is the Son of Man; it is Jesus himself. And at the deepest level, he is this sign in his Paschal Mystery, in the mystery of his death and Resurrection. He himself is "the sign of Jonah." He, crucified and risen, is the true Lazarus. The parable is inviting us to believe and follow him, God's great sign. But it is more than a parable. It speaks of reality, of the most decisive reality in all history.

Friday Fun...Lebron James and the Golden Rule of Sports

I saw this about a week ago and perhaps many of you have seen it already as well.  But I found it pretty funny (and disturbingly accurate), and as a sports fan with a blog, I wanted to pass it along.  A Friday Fun post the morning after the NBA Draft seemed like as good a time as any...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Update: Get the Word Out

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall Karen Smith and a missionary organization which she started called Get the Word Out, Inc.  I first introduced you to GTWO in March of 2010 in a post that included the following story from Kenyan national news:

I also wrote a post back in October which chronicled the story of how they had helped save the life of a little girl named Esther who was suffering from cancer, and were attempting to do the same for an 18-year-old young man named Koech, who literally had only weeks left to live if untreated.

Long story, short, Koech has since successfully undergone treatment for his cancer, and returned this week to Africa with a team from GTWO.  I just received an email from Karen's husband Mike, with the following information:
God richly blessed the Get The Word Out team on the trip to Koech's home village, and the trip to Uganda. Want to know how excited the villagers in Kasae were to receive Koech, the 18-year-old who was dying when he left them last November for treatment in St. Louis? They actually posted a child as a "lookout," and when the child saw the team's vehicles approaching the village, he ran back to alert everyone. About 50 women ran out to the vans, and were jumping up and down, clapping and shouting for joy, when they got to them. The women danced alongside as the team drove to the edge of the village, where hundreds of people were waiting to see Koech and to welcome him in celebration. Karen said Koech's mother, Dorcas, was "beaming, just so happy" that her son had returned healthy.
As I read the email, I had the following thoughts:

First, what an amazing thing it is that as a result of Karen's love for Christ and her obedience to his command that we love others, two children on the edge of death have been restored to health and to their parents.  I am reminded of the many times in Scripture that we read of Jesus healing people (even those who were dead) and restoring them to their families.

I also couldn't help but think of the story of the woman living in Joppa who (like Koech's mother) was named Dorcas.  In Acts 9:36-43 we read that she became ill and died.  The disciples there called for the Apostle Peter who came and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, raised her from the dead.  "And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord."

What a joy it is to see the Body of Christ still bringing health and life to the sick and dying.  We have no idea the degree to which the Lord might use this to draw countless others to himself, but we do know that sickness is a result of the Fall and that death is our ultimate enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). The ultimate "death of death" of course comes only through Christ's work on the cross, but as we work to bring both physical and spiritual healing and life to others, we are surely imaging the one who is our Savior!

Second, the scene that Mike described of the "lookout," the people going out to meet the vans, and then dancing in celebration as they followed them back to the village reminded me of the return of Christ.  We too are to be watchful as we await the coming of the Lord (Matthew 24:36-44).  We are further told about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord."

According to the ESV Study Bible, the Greek term translated here as "to meet" (and similarly used in other places such Matthew 25:6 and Acts 28:15) "is often used of an important dignitary's reception by the inhabitants of a city, who come out to greet and welcome their honored guest with fanfare and celebration, then accompany him into the city."  Sound familiar?

May we all be watchful as we await our Lord's return.  And as we do, may our lives be lived in such a way that as we interact with others, they might celebrate his presence in us!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How We Approach God in Prayer

"Now, as it would be the folly and madness of presumption, to call God our Father, except on the ground that, through our union to the body of Christ, we are acknowledged as his children, we conclude, that there is no other way of praying aright, but by approaching God with reliance on the Mediator."

John Calvin

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Spurgeon on the Source of Power in Preaching

"The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be the converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach until our tongues rotted, till we would exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit be with the Word of God to give it the power to convert the soul."

Charles Spurgeon

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jesus, My All-in-All

Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
"Teach me that Christ cannot be the way if I am the end,
     that he cannot be redeemer if I am my own saviour,
     that there can be no true union with him while the creature has my heart,
     that faith accepts him as redeemer and Lord or not at all."

Friday Fun: The Dalai Lama Walks into a Pizza Shop...

An Australian journalist caps off his interview with the Dalai Lama by sharing a Dalai Lama joke with the man himself.  You've got to give the guy credit for having the guts to try this, but in the end, this is pretty much an epic fail in terms of joke-telling.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to Give Biblical Advice

"...let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak..." (James 1:19)

Francis Schaeffer was once asked what his strategy would be if he had one hour to share the Gospel with someone.  He replied something to the effect of, "I'd spend the first 55 minutes listening to them talk."

In the video below, Dr. Mike Emlet of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation wisely advocates such a position whenever we try to give Biblical advice, and discusses what exactly makes the advice we give "scriptural."

Dr. Mike Emlet - On mistakes we can make using Scripture in advice giving. from CCEF on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

For Whom Are You Working?

Dane Ortlund had a brief but insightful post yesterday at his blog, Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology.  In it he pointed the reader to the following two passages of Scripture from the Gospel of Mark:

Mark 8:33, "Get behind me, Satan!" (spoken by Jesus to the Simon Peter), and Mark 9:38-39, where we find the disciples saying, "'Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not stop him.'"

Dane then wisely observed,
Even the chief apostle, the one on whom Jesus founded the church, is capable of falling into patterns of thinking that align with Satan rather than God (Mark 8). Yet shortly later, the disciples are concerned that strangers are casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Mark 9).

In Mark 8 we learn that the work of Satan can be done by those close to Jesus. In Mark 9 we learn that the work of God can be done by those far from Jesus.
May we all remember this lesson and pray that we might humbly and consistently walk in the good works that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...C.S. Lewis on our Desires

"The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire...Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

C.S. Lewis
The Weight of Glory

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Word for Preachers...John Piper on Producing Contrition

"Preaching that aims to produce true evangelical remorse and contrition must devote itself to making God and His holiness look alluringly attractive and satisfying, so that, by the grace of regeneration and illumination, people will come to love is so much that they feel remorse over falling short of it.  In other words, we must preach for joy in the glory of God if we would produce true grief over falling short of the glory of God.  Evangelical repentance is grounded in an appealing sight of the holiness of God."

John Piper

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Fun...American Pie

I can't even begin to fathom the amount of work that went into preparing this. I saw it over at Kevin DeYoung's blog, and as Kevin put it, "If this doesn’t make you want to visit Michigan’s second largest city, then it will certainly make you want to download Don McLean."

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Word for Preachers...William Still on Feeding the Sheep

"The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed.  He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats.  Let goats entertain goats and let them do it out in goatland.  You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness.  Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit, changes, as well as maddens men?  If we do, to be evangelists and pastors, feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God."

William Still

Friday, June 3, 2011

Attention, Graduates!

As a number of others have already pointed out in the blogosphere this New York Times op-ed piece by David Brooks is a must-reed if you are a recent or soon-to-be graduate. In it, Brooks makes a number of good points about the inherent flaws in the system that we have set up. He argues, and rightly so in my opinion, that we have done our graduates very few favors.
Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front...The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.
One very slight word of caution. Brooks suggests that it is into certain tasks that we are to lose ourselves. I agree that there are certainly God-ordained tasks for us (Ephesians 2:10), and we will indeed find fulfillment in executing them. Ultimately though, these tasks are to be a byproduct of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is into that relationship which we are called to lose ourselves (Matthew 16:24). Nevertheless, it is a wonderful piece, full of wisdom for us all. Click here to read the entire column.

(HT: Keith Simon)

Jerram Barrs to Speak in Dundee

I know that there are a few folks out there following this blog who happen to live in Scotland. I'm not exactly sure how that came to pass...but I'm very thankful for you all!

If you are one of these people, I just saw a notice that may be of some interest to you depending on where exactly you are located. One of my former professors, Jerram Barrs, will be a guest of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity in Dundee.  As just about anyone who has attended Covenant would agree, Jerram is one of the most Christ-like individuals I have ever met.  He is the author of numerous wonderful books including Learning Evangelism from JesusThe Heart of EvangelismThe Heart of Prayer and Through His Eyes: God's Perspective on Women in the Bible. If you attend this lunch, you can be certain that you will be blessed to spend time with him.

Here is the info on his visit from the Solas website:
Solas are delighted to bring the church in Dundee another great opportunity…Dr Jerram Barrs from Covenant Seminary in the USA.  Due to a late cancellation he is now available for a meeting in Dundee on Friday the 10th from 12-2pm.  He will be leading a seminar on communicating the gospel in today's culture.  The cost is £0 – please bring your own packed lunch – we will provide the drinks – but let David Robertson know you will be coming...  The luncheon will be at the Solas Centre - 4 St Peter Street, Dundee, DD1 4JJ.
Check out the video below to gain a little insight into Jerram's heart.  And I hope some of you are able to attend!

Friday Fun...Improv Everywhere's Mute Button

I've shared some of the escapades of Improv Everywhere before both here and here.  They recently had another  "mission" where they experimented with what it might be like if there was a mute button for the world.  Make sure you watch all the way to the end.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

When Christian Celebrities Fall

If you are at all a sports fan, you've heard the news that hit on Monday that Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel had resigned from his position amid the scandals that had swirled around his program for the last five months.  This news, and even more so the details that prompted it, hit many in the evangelical community especially hard as Tressel was an outspoken Christian who had started Bible studies and written books on character and integrity.

My friend and fellow-pastor Jonathan Weyer, who happens to work on the campus of Ohio State, shared his take on the whole issue in a thought-provoking column today.  He points out that far too often, it seems Christian celebrities fail us in their example.  But Jonathan suggests that this kind of scandal often not only exposes sin in their lives, but in ours as well.
I hate what Tressel did. I hate that he lied. But even more, I hate that I put him in a position to break my heart so much. He should never have been there in the first place. Tressel is just a guy, a good football coach who messed up for a variety of reasons. He should never have been my idol and it's not fair to blame him for my own sin, the sin of making an idol in my life.
Jonathan goes on to ask us to examine who we look to as icons.  Are they those who are powerful and popular, or are they those who are meek and poor in spirit?
The nature of the Gospel tells us who should be in our icon gallery, those who are like Christ. Those who know they are sinners, admit it, and brag to the world about their failures. When we get to that point, Tressel and the long list of Christian celebrities will no longer haunt us. We will know they are fellow patients under the same Physician with no special powers to fight temptation. We will know they are having one of their "bad days" that all of us have and that they need extra care. We will drop our stones and embrace the naked prostitute, because she is us, in need of grace and the love of Christ. We will no longer blame the celebrities for our own failings. We will no longer be shamed in the public eye because Christ will be our focus, not moral values, fame or celebrity. 
Click here to read the whole column.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...John Piper on What God is Seeking

"What is God looking for in the world? Assistants? No. The gospel is not a help-wanted ad. It is a help-available ad. Nor is the call to Christian service a help-wanted ad. God is not looking for people to work for Him but people who let Him work mightily in and through them...God is not a scout looking for the first draft choices to help His team win.  He is an unstoppable fullback ready to take the ball and run touchdowns for anyone who trusts Him to win the game."

John Piper