Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Prayer for Year's End

               YEAR'S END

Thou art good when thou givest,
     when thou takest away,
     when the sun shines upon me,
     when night gathers over me.
     Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
     and in love didst redeem my soul;
Thou dost love me still,
     in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
Thy goodness has been with me another year,
     leading me through a twisting wilderness,
     in retreat helping me to advance,
     when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With thee as the blessed Pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
If thou hast appointed storms of tribulation,
     thou wilt be with me in them;
If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation,
     I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
     I shall see thy face the sooner;
If a painful end is to be my lot,
     grant me grace that my faith fail not;
If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
     I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
     as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.

From Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chronicles of Narnia: The End of All the Stories

***** SPOILER ALERT *****

"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."

Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often."

"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are - as you used to call it in the Shadowlands - dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

From The Last Battle in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Chalmers on the Means of Grace

"In bygone days when God’s covenant people sought to strengthen their piety, to sharpen their effectual intercessions, and give passion to their supplications, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

"When intent upon seeking the Lord God’s guidance in difficult after-times, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

"When they were wont to express grief—whether over the consequences of their own sins or the sins of others—they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

"When they sought deliverance or protection in times of trouble, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

"When they desired to express repentance, covenant renewal, and a return to the fold of faith, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

"Such is the call upon all who would name the Name of Jesus. Such is the ordinary Christian life."

Thomas Chalmers

(HT: Challies)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best Books of 2011

I enjoy books. And I enjoy "best of the year" lists. So you can imagine how I feel about lists of the year's best books!

Last year I decided to take it a step further and I compiled a list of such lists.  Perhaps some day I will have done this enough times that I could compile a book of lists of lists of books.  One can only dream.

For now though, we'll have to settle for this year's installment of the lists from various sources, each with their own slightly different qualifications for what gets a book on the list.  Here they are:

Valley of Vision: Our Heart's Desire

I hasten towards an hour
     when earthly pursuits and possessions will appear vain,
     when it will be indifferent whether I have been rich or poor,
     successful or disappointed, admired or despised,
But it will be of eternal moment that I have
mourned for sin,
     hungered and thirsted after righteousness,
     loved the Lord Jesus in sincerity,
     gloried in his cross.
May these objects engross my chief solicitude!

From Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Robinson on Application and the Grace of God

"Early in the sermon, therefore, listeners should realize that the pastor is talking to them about them. He reaises a question, probes a problem, identifies a need, opens up a vital issue to which the passage speaks. Application starts in the introduction not in the conclusion. Should a preacher of even limited ability deal with them from the Bible, he will be acclaimed a genius. More important than that, he will through his preaching bring the grace of God to bear on the agonizing worries and tensions of daily life."

Haddon Robinson
Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Christmas Guarantees

The other day my friend Marc Swan posted the following quote from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
"What God did when he sent his Son into the world is an absolute guarantee that he will do everything he has ever promised to do. Whatever your state or condition may be, whatever may happen to you, he has said, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee' (Hebrews 13:5) -- and he will not."
May you have a merry Christmas.  And may you dwell securely in the promises of God which find their guarantee in the incarnation of Christ!

The Jesus Storybook Bible: He's Here!

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  Please take five minutes and watch the video below, which is a presentation of the chapter that deals with the Christmas story.

I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas celebrating the birth of our Lord!

Friday, December 23, 2011

In the Bleak Midwinter

Friday Fun...A Digital Nativity

This is another repeat from last year, but as Christmas rapidly approaches, I couldn't resist the urge to revisit this creative and fun (albeit not 100% biblically and theologically acurate) video.

At the Center of the Story Is a Baby...

From the introduction of my favorite children's Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones:
Now some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is – it’s true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend...
As we celebrate the birth of this child, may he reign in our hearts and in our minds, and may all glory be his now and forevermore! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chronicles of Narnia...Unless I Had Been Calling You

"Come here," said the Lion. And she had to. She was almost between its front paws now, looking straight into its face. But she couldn't stand that for long; she dropped her eyes.

"Human Child," said the Lion. "Where is the Boy?"

"He fell over the cliff," said Jill, and added, "Sir." She didn't know what else to call him, and it sounded cheek to call him nothing.

"How did he come to do that, Human Child?"

"He was trying to stop me from falling, Sir."

"Why were you so near the edge, Human Child?"

"I was showing off, Sir."

"That is a very good answer, Human Child. Do so no more. And now" (here for the first time the Lion's face became a little less stern) "the boy is safe. I have blown him to Narnia. But your task will be the harder because of what you have done."

"Please, what task, Sir?" said Jill.

"The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world."

This puzzled Jill very much. "It's mistaking me for someone else," she thought. She didn't dare to tell the Lion this, though she felt things would get into a dreadful muddle unless she did.

"Speak your thought, Human Child," said the Lion.

"I was wondering - I mean - could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to - to Somebody - it was a name I wouldn't know - and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open."

"You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you," said the Lion.

"Then you are Somebody, Sir?" said Jill.

"I am..."

From The Silver Chair in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Bonhoeffer on Advent

It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: "Behold, I make all things new."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Hobbit

Don't get too excited; it's release is still a year away. But here is the trailer to The Hobbit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Real Miracle of Christmas

The other day I read a story about anonymous people paying off layaway balances on Christmas gifts that random people had on hold for their children. One of the people who had been so blessed was quoted as saying something to the effect of, "I believe in Christmas again."

We consider these types of things (especially if and when they happen to us) to be "Christmas miracles." This morning though, I kept having the thought rattling around in my head that the true miracle of Christmas is that the Creator deigned to become the creature.

Last year I did a series of blog posts on Christmas hymns. One of them dealt with the wonder of this truth. Here were my thoughts:

John begins his gospel by saying, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  This sets the stage for perhaps the most dramatic truth in human history, as described later in that same chapter in verse 14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

John tells us that, amazingly, the Word became flesh...God became a man.  In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul says Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and the second person of the Deity, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

What an act of humility for God to submit himself even to death, and the most painful and humiliating form of death at that.  But even apart from this, the fact that God even became a human being in the first place is the most supreme act of gracious condescension one can imagine.

When John says he "dwelt among us," the literal language is "he pitched his tent" or "he tabernacled" in our midst.  It is an allusion to the fact that before the Temple was built, God's dwelling place in the midst of his people had been in the Tabernacle, essentially a tent-temple that moved with the people.  What John is implying here (and says outright in Revelation 21:22) is that the Christ is the true Temple, the place where God and man meet.

When Moses requested to see the glory of God, God's response was, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live" (Exodus 33:18-20).  But so great is the graciousness of God in Christ Jesus that John can truly say, "we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

I am reminded of what may be my favorite lines from any Christmas hymn:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
May we, with John, look to Christ and his glory.  And may we, with the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn king!"

Other posts in last year's Advent series included:

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Mohler on Wee Little Morality Sermons

"The tendency to isolate our sermons to one tiny piece of biblical text is a major problem, and it also explains why so much evangelical preaching is moralistic. It is easy to pick out a familiar story, make a few points from it about what people should do and should not do, and then be done with it. But that kind of preaching will leave a church weak and starving, because the Christians who sit under it never find themselves in the big story of God's work in the world. If we as preachers want to see our people growing to maturity in Christ, we must give them more than a diet of wee little morality sermons. We must place every text we preach firmly within the grand, sweeping story of the Bible."

Al Mohler

Friday, December 16, 2011

Evangelicals and Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is dead.

Perhaps the world's most prominent and outspoken atheist, Hitchens died Thursday from complications of esophageal cancer at the age of 62. He garnered infamy throughout evangelicalism through his articulate communication of the belief that faith in God was not only not a good thing, but was actually the cause of most of our problems.  It is no surprise that such books as God is Not Good helped to make him "Enemy #1" in the minds of many members of the evangelical community.

I suppose there may be some who are gleeful at the passing of one who spent so much time and effort being an enemy of the One whom we follow. Though it would be a sad indictment on Christians, it would not be altogether surprising to see reaction pieces  proclaiming, "Ding-dong, the wicked witch is dead!"

Douglas Wilson, on the other hand, has written an obituary that is well-thought-out, well-stated, and I would argue a far better Christian response, which I think is quite helpful in demonstrating how we ought to react to the death of Hitchens.

You can click here to read Wilson's piece in its entirety, but there was one thing in particular I wanted to highlight.  I found the following passage to be quite interesting:
We also know that Christopher was worried about this, and was afraid of letting down the infidel team. In a number of interviews during the course of his cancer treatments, he discussed the prospect of a "death bed" conversion, and it was clear that he was concerned about the prospect. But, he assured interviewers, if anything like that ever happened, we should all be certain that the cancer or the chemo or something had gotten to his brain. If he confessed faith, then he, the Christopher Hitchens that we all knew, should be counted as already dead. In short, he was preparing a narrative for us, just in case.
It occurred to me as I read these words how precious the gospel is, and how (apart from the grace of God) I am exactly like Christopher Hitchens (though nowhere near as intellectually gifted). You see, Hitchens and I agreed on this much: If he (or I or anyone else) trusts in Christ, it is most assuredly not our own doing (Ephesians 2:8, 9). And if he (or I or anyone else) confesses faith, then indeed the person we once were should already be counted as dead (2 Corinthians 5:17). And every bit as much as Hitchens, we were all once enemies of God, reconciled to him not by any goodness in us, but only through the death of his Son (Romans 5:10).

It turns out evangelicals have more in common with Christopher Hitchens than we thought.

Friday Fun...Clark Griswold, Eat Your Heart Out

Make sure your speakers are turned up...

Or if you prefer (and have the time), here is the long version...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chronicles of Narnia: Dragon Skin Removed

“The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bath.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bath.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I was smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

From The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Bonhoeffer on Advent

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Horton on the Method of the Mission

Not only does Jesus give us the reason and the mission statement, he gives us the methods too. With all due respect to Finney, he doesn't just say 'Go,' he tells us how to go, and how to deliver (the message) to those who deperately need it.

First, we make disciples, Jesus says, by preaching the gospel. This is not only how unbelievers are converted, but how believers are sustained in their faith. As Paul says, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. The gospel," he says, "is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

Preaching the gospel can't be reduced to a tract, or Four Spiritual Laws, or an elevator speech. Sure, it can be summarized briefly, but we spend our whole lives being drawn into that unfolding drama of redemption that forms the scarlet thread of biblical revelation.

Mike Horton

Friday, December 9, 2011

(More) Friday Fun...Bethlehemian Rhapsody

Okay. I'm usually against the Church copying secular art, music, etc. This is not because I think these things are inherently "unholy," but rather because I've found that when the Church co-opts these things, she generally does a poor job of it.

That being said, I couldn't help but enjoy the video below. Musically, it is pretty well done; poetically, it's not terrible; and the puppets, well, I grew up on Sesame Street, so I'm kind of a sucker for them.

Anyway, check it out. And thanks to Nancy Gnagi for pointing me to it.

Friday Fun...Christmas Shopping Lists

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Am Just Like Albert Pujols

The news I had been fearing came this morning: Albert Pujols, the premier baseball player of his generation, was leaving the St. Louis Cardinals, my St. Louis Cardinals, for the Los Angeles Angels. And why? Because they offered him somewhere in excess of $250 million dollars when the the Cardinals' offer was closer to $200 million.

Cardinal fans are passionate about baseball. The national media make much of (and I'm sure other teams' fans are tired of hearing about) the fact that Cardinal fans are "the best fans in baseball." I'll grant that it seems to be a pretty subjective designation, and I don't know what kind of barometer you might use to measure it. I can attest to this though: The spirits of an entire region invariably rise and fall with the performance of its baseball team.

I remember back in 1987 when the Cardinals lost first baseman Jack Clark to free agency the same week St. Louis lost our NFL team to Arizona. The newspaper ran a public opinion poll as to which was the more devastating loss, a first baseman leaving the baseball team or the ENTIRE football team leaving the city. Clark had only been in St. Louis for three years and was nowhere near the player Pujols is. He won in a landslide.

Anyway, as I've followed things on Facebook & Twitter, Cardinal fans are unsurprisingly distraught. Amidst their anguish, cries are arising over the unmitigated pride of Pujols. After all, isn't $200 million enough?

I too am saddened by the departure for a number of reasons. Not the least of these is the discussion it forces me to have this evening with a twelve year old son whose first words to me each day for the last month have been, "Any news on Pujols?"

This being said, I think to criticize Pujols for greed is a little off base. If anything, I think the operative sin here would not be greed, but pride. Ultimately, in his heart of hearts, my guess is that what Pujols wanted wasn't so much the extra $50 million, but the status that comes with having received such a large contract.

I am reminded of the words of C.S. Lewis from his book, Mere Christianity
Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl. But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.
Now, it's easy for me to be critical of the greedy man who wants another $50 million because I am not likely ever to find myself in such a situation.  But each day I am forced to do battle with my pride.  So as disappointed as I am that Pujols has left, I'm going to try to get my own pride issues taken care of before I start bashing him. And as soon as I think I've eliminated pride in my life, that will be the first indication I haven't.


There seems to be some confusion over what I was saying as some folks I have talked to thought that I was making precisely the opposite point I intended to make -- never a good thing for a communicator.

It was not my desire to suggest that Albert's decision was necessarily sinful. Rather, I was merely suggesting that it was my guess that whatever sin might be wrapped up in it would more likely be a sin of pride than of greed. As such, I hoped to demonstrate that we should probably refrain from being too critical of him as we all struggle with pride in its various manifestations. Hence the title of the post.

Chronicles of Narnia: Who Said Anything About Safe?

“You'll understand when you see him.”

“But shall we see him?” asked Susan.

“Why, Daughter of Eve, that's what I brought you here for. I'm to lead you where you shall meet him, said Mr. Beaver.”

“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.”

From The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Bonhoeffer on Advent

For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Meaning of Marriage

I confess, I am not all that "up" on the world of entertainment. That being said, even I am aware of Kim Kardashian and her recent (brief) marriage. This episode served only to reinforce what I already believed: that our culture as a whole has a profoundly distorted view of what marriage is and what it should be.

Into this quagmire enters Tim Keller, who (with his wife Kathy) has written The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of  Commitment with the Wisdom of God. I have not yet read the book, but based on the video below (recorded during a recent visit to Google's New York offices) and what I already know about Keller, I will gladly commend it to you. Whether you're married or single, Christian or not, please consider what Keller has to say. The first 30 minutes or so of the video are essentially a lecture, while the second half is in a Q&A format.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

What Christmas Is All About (Once More)

Yesterday our call to worship at church was Luke 2:8-14. In reading it, I was reminded of the following clip which I posted last year on Christmas Eve.  It has always been a favorite of mine, ever since I delivered these lines when I was in fifth grade and played the roll of Linus in a production of A Charlie Brown Christmas at my school.  Amidst all the hubbub of the holidays, I thought it might be a nice reminder for all of us to revisit it.

Merry Christmas to you all and may you know the joy that comes with knowing the true meaning of Christmas.

A Word for Preachers...Stott on the Relationship Between Prayer and Study

"All the time we shall be praying, crying humbly to God for illumination by the Spirit of truth. We shall repeat Mose's petition, 'I pray you, show me your glory' (Exod. 33:18) and Samuel's 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'. (1 Sam 3:9, 10) Christian meditation differs from other kinds in being a combination of study and prayer. Some preachers are very diligent students. Their desk is piled high with theological works, and they give their mind to the elucidation of the text. But they hardly if ever pray for light. Others are very diligent in prayer, but hardly ever engage in serious study. We must not separate what God has joined."

John Stott
Between Two Worlds

Friday, December 2, 2011

Can We Expect a Husband To Be Faithful?

I saw something today that caught my attention. It occurred in the political arena, but my thoughts, I assure you, were anything but political. In the last couple months, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has risen from relative obscurity to near the top of the polls, only to then experience a precipitous dip in light of numerous rumors of extramarital affairs.

Author and commentator Ben Stein appeared on "The Early Show" on CBS this morning to discuss politics. The Cain situation was the first thing they tackled and Stein had this to say:
"I keep thinking to myself, yes, he is a sinner. Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.  He's not running for pope. He's not running for saint. He is running for president. We've had lots of presidents who had girlfriends. We had President Kennedy who was a great president, he had girlfriends. President Roosevelt who was with his girlfriend when he died, he was one of the greatest presidents that's ever been. Thomas Jefferson had a very well-documented affair. I'm not saying it's a great thing; I'm just saying people are human. We can't judge people by super-human standards." 
From a political point of view, I was not surprised by the comments that Stein made. I've gotten to the point where I'm not sure that there are any political comments (made by Republicans or Democrats) that could surprise me. From a different point of view though, I am enormously grieved by part of what Stein says. What especially grieves me is that I think most people in our culture probably share Stein's basic point of view on this:  He says, "We can't judge people by super-human standards."

Setting aside the topic of whether a candidate's marital fidelity is at all relevant, this comment prompted a couple of thoughts: First of all, while I'd agree that it is futile to attempt to hold others to super-human standards, when exactly did the standard of being faithful to one's spouse attain the level of "super-human?"  When I promised sixteen years ago to forsake all others, until death do us part, I harbored no illusions that my abilities were "super-human." And yet I made that promise, that vow, anyway. If I (or anyone else) should fail to keep such a vow, it isn't because we are NOT super-human; it is because we ARE sinners.

Secondly, while we might want to be careful about holding everyone else to super-human standards, we should never forget that God demands that his people not only be "super-human," but "holy" and "perfect" (Leviticus 19:2 & Matthew 5:48). This is, of course, something that none of us can or have done. None, that is, except the promised Messiah who 2000 years ago came for his people to be their covenantal representative, their sacrificial lamb and their long-awaited bridegroom.

This advent season especially, let us remember that "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). And let us forever rejoice that Christ is, and always will be, faithful to his bride.

Friday Fun...Do You Hear What I Hear?

Tim Hawkins offers a few thoughts regarding the renowned Christmas carol.

(HT: Trevin Wax)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chronicles of Narnia: No Other Stream

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.

"I am dying of thirst," said Jill.

"Then drink," said the Lion.

"May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

"Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

"Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

From The Silver Chair in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Bonhoeffer on Advent

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Carl Trueman on Christ-Cent(e)red Preaching

"Too often today churches with a high view of Scripture and of the preaching ministry actually tolerate sermons which, while being very faithful in a sense to the text, never mention Christ. Yet if the Reformers' claim that Christ is the centre of the Bible and that the whole Bible tells one story, that of God's grace in Christ, then no sermon worthy of the mane Christian can possibly omit speaking of Christ, wherever the chosen text may be taken from, Old or New Testament. God-centred sermons must by definition be Christ-centered sermons if they are to contain even a drop of grace."

Carl Trueman
Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Fun...Thanksgiving Dinner

I hope your Thanksgiving dinner was at least as enjoyable as the one depicted below...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Children in the life of the Church

"Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:13-14 ESV)

The other day, Kevin DeYoung had a post with a couple helpful suggestions on how to have a prayer service at your church. Of all the wise advice included, I was especially pleased to read what he had to say in regards to the inclusion of children:
Keep the kids. I know that keeping kids in the church service, let alone a prayer service, can be challenging. We do have a nursery for infants and toddlers on Sunday night. But one of the best things about our prayer service is that many children are present. They sit in the small group circles (when we break up into groups) and often contribute with the adults. I can’t tell you how pleased I am when one of my kids prays in our circle. I’m just as pleased that they are seeing prayer modeled by believers from outside their family and from every age group. They get to hear confessions, praises, and supplications just like everyone else. We are teaching our children to pray by having a prayer service. We are also demonstrating that prayer really matters.
Far too often we fail to include children in our church activity, either because we (like the disciples in Matthew 19) find them to be an unnecessary distraction, or perhaps because we feel they're not mature enough to understand what's going on anyway. Before we fall prey to this prevalent though faulty way of thinking, let us consider the words of R.C. Sproul Jr.:
"There is every reason to believe that little children do not have the capacity to believe the gospel. They lack that which is necessary. The good news, however, is that no person has the capacity to believe the gospel. Not one of us can believe on our own, not because we aren't smart enough, but because we aren't good enough. What stops the little children from believing is not an underdeveloped brain, but a wicked heart. But God is stronger than both underdeveloped brains and wicked hearts."
 For a couple other posts in this vein, click here and here.

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Keller on Idols and Guilt

"There is legitimate guilt that is removed through repentance and restitution, and then there is irremediable guilt. When people say, 'I know God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself,' they mean that they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to them than God's."

Tim Keller
Counterfeit Gods

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Thought for Thanksgiving

I love family. I love turkey. And I love football. No doubt many of you share these attitudes, and as a consequence, you share my love for Thanksgiving.

It is my prayer though, that this Thanksgiving, I might focus more on the original intent of the holiday, and that perhaps you might as well. Please consider the statement below from President George Washington proclaiming a National Day of Thanksgiving.  May it enhance your celebration this week.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor...

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the twenty-sixth day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these United States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we then may all unite unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed...

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable Us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and Concord, to promote the knowledge and practice of the true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3rd of October, A.D. 1789.
- - Go Washington.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Word for Preachers...E.M. Bounds on Unction

"This unction comes to the preacher not in the study but in the closet. It is heaven's distillation in answer to prayer. It is the sweetest exhalation of the Holy Spirit. It impregnates, suffuses, softens, percolates, cuts, and soothes. It carries the Word like dynamite, like salt, like sugar; makes the Word a soother, an arranger, a revealer, a searcher; makes the hearer a culprit or a saint, makes him weep like a child and live like a giant; opens his heart and his purse as gently, yet as strongly as the spring opens the leaves. This unction is not the gift of genius. It is not found in the halls of learning. No eloquence can woo it. No industry can win it. No prelatical hands can confer it. It is the gift of God -- the signet set to his own messengers. It is heaven's knighthood given to the chosen true and brave ones who have sought this anointed honor through many an hour of tearful, wrestling prayer."

E.M. Bounds
Power Through Prayer

Behold the Lamb of God

Once again this December, Andrew Peterson (along with Ben Shive, Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips, Andrew Osenga, Jason Gray, Gabe Scott, Todd Bragg, Paul Eckberg, Claire Indie, and Cason Cooley) will be hitting the road for the Behold the Lamb of God tour.

I've never seen the show, but the album Behold the Lamb of God is a favorite of mine year 'round, not just at Christmas!  If you can make it to any of the following shows, I highly recommend it.  Click here and here to access some previous posts that include music from the show.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Weekly Words of Wisdom...Calvin on Prayer

"We may conclude...that no prayers are lawful or rightly composed unless they consist of these two members: First, all who approach God ought to cast themselves down before him, and to acknowledge themselves deserving of a thousand deaths; next, to enable them to emerge from the abyss of despair, and to raise themselves to the hope of pardon, they should call upon God without fear or doubt, and with firm and stable confidence. This reliance upon God can have no other support than the nature of God himself, and to this he has borne ample testimony."

John Calvin
Commentaries on The Prophet Daniel, Volume 2

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Word for Preachers...John Owen on the Principal Duty of Pastors

"The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word...This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor, as unto the exercise of it, so that he who doth not, or can not, or will not, feed the flock is no pastor whatever outward call or work he may have in the church."

John Owen, Works, vol. 16

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Scandals Can Teach A Christian Sports Fan

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting author Ted Kluck.  Since then, I've enjoyed getting to know him.  Ted and I share many interests, not the least of which are sports, theology and the relationship between the two.  The author of The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fainfesto, Ted has written in many different genres that I've enjoyed, but I think it is when he is writing on this area that I most appreciate his talents.

If you (like Ted and me) are a sports fan, no doubt you have heard of the scandal that is currently rocking the world of college football.  If you are unaware of the details, simply consider yourself fortunate. Regardless though, check out this piece Ted wrote related to the scandal, dealing specifically with the topic of our attitude toward sports as Christians.

In it he states,
I’m reminded of something that we say a lot but I think rarely internalize and actually live: The idea that nothing good is possible apart from Christ. As proud and hopeful as Penn State football made us feel over the years, this story is an occasion to be reminded that Christ is our only comfort, and our only source of joy. It’s a chance to be reminded that God gives football and God, sometimes, in his sovereignty, takes it away.
And I think it’s an occasion to question our own tendency toward hero-worship. If we say that we worship the author and perfector of our faith, why then do we have an almost insatiable and semi-embarrassing drive to create heroes in other walks of life?
Click here to read the whole post.

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Trueman on Personal Religious Experience

“(I)t seems to me to be theologically significant that we often know very little of the detailed religious experiences of the great Reformers. This is not, of course, because they did not have such experiences; it is simply because they seem implicitly to have regarded these experiences as not germane to their public role as church leaders. At the end of the day, the gospel is believed because God – because God – so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and so on. The power and persuasiveness of the gospel lies in the fact that God acted in history to save humanity in and through his Son, Jesus Christ. The experience of this salvation by individual people and by whole churches is a source for rejoicing but should never be allowed to eclipse the emphasis on the great saving acts of God’s redemptive history. The gospel is the story of what God has done for sinners in Christ; it is not first and foremost the experience of God by any particular individual; and, if testimonies are to be given in a useful way, they must reflect this fact.”

Carl Trueman
Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Eric Alexander on Preaching and Shepherding

"It is by faithful ministry of the Word of God that true pastoral care comes. We are to pastor biblically and to preach pastorally. It is significant that the apostle Paul describes himself in various roles in that one ministry: he is not only a herald of the gospel, and a custodian of the truth, and an expositor of Scripture; he is also a father to his children, a travailing mother who goes through the pain of bearing them, and a gentle nursemaid who learns loving patience with them. All of these things ought to be visible in a truly biblical preaching ministry, because it is from Scripture that the pastoral model comes. This of course is just to say that we can never be detached from the people to whom we are ministering. A lecturer may be, but a preacher never can be."

Eric Alexander
What is Biblical Preaching?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Fun...Palindrome Day

Wednesday was a special day on the calendar because of its palindromic nature. That is to say, read forward or backward, the date (11/02/2011) was the same. In honor of that fact, I posted the following video on Facebook. The song, by "Weird Al" Yankovic is titled "Bob," in tribute (and palindromically so!) to Bob Dylan, whose video for Subterranean Homesick Blues served as the inspiration and pattern for this one.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Sermons Work

Recently I got David Murray's book, How Sermons Work. I'm not all the way through it yet, but what I've read so far, I've really liked. Understanding how sermons are put together is something that can be quite helpful for hearers of sermons as well as those who deliver them, and Murray has written this book with the exact point in mind.

Below is a quick video that very creatively gives a preview of How Sermons Work.

How Sermons Work from HeadHeartHand Media on Vimeo.

(HT: Challies)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wednesdays Words of Wisdom...Keller on the Uniqueness of Christianity

"The essence of other religions is advice; Christianity is essentially news. Other religions say, 'This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever; this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God.' But the gospel says, 'This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you.' Christianity is completely different. It's joyful news."

Tim Keller
King's Cross

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

8th Annual Mid-Michigan Conference on Reformed Theology

This weekend, in honor of Reformation Sunday, our church hosted the 8th annual Mid-Michigan Conference on Reformed Theology.  Our speakers were five pastors from throughout the region and this year's conference dealt with the Reformed doctrines of the TULIP:
  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints
I'm pleased to let you know that the conference was a rousing success.  Click here to listen to any of the messages from the conference, and please send me an email ( if you would like to receive information about future conferences.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Matthew Simpson on the Uniqueness of Preaching

"(The preacher's) throne is the pulpit; he stands in Christ's stead; his message is the word of God; around him are immortal souls; the Saviour, unseen, is beside him; the Holy Spirit broods over the congregation; angels gaze upon the scene, and heaven and hell await the issue. What associations, and what a vast responsibility!"

Matthew Simpson

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Fun: Tim Hawkins on Halloween Candy

I posted this last year the weekend of Halloween and thought it might be appropriate to do so again.  In the video below, Tim Hawkins shares his thoughts on bad candy.  As I mentioned last year, please people, no matter what your thoughts are regarding Halloween, don't be the house that gives out the lame stuff.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

You're Invited!

If you're in Michigan and are looking for a great way to spend your day this Saturday, let me invite you to consider attending the Mid-Michigan Conference on Reformed Theology.  This is the eighth year our church has hosted the conference, and our focus this year will be on the Reformed doctrines of the TULIP:
  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints
Our speakers will be pastors from various churches throughout the region, and we anticipate a wonderful time of learning and fellowship as we gather together.  Click here to see a bulletin, and feel free to sign up at the door.  We hope to see you there!

A Song for Reformation Sunday

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my friend and fellow-pastor, Zac Hicks, recently released the album Without His Aid with the worship team at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church outside of Denver.  Once again I highly recommend it.

Zac points out at his blog that the first song on the album is especially suitable for Reformation Sunday, which is coming up this weekend. It is entitled Sola and focuses on "the five solas" of the Reformation: 
  • Sola fide – faith alone
  • Sola gratia – grace alone
  • Solus Christus – Christ alone
  • Sola scriptura – Scripture alone
  • Soli Deo gloria - to God alone be the glory
Check it out below and click here to learn more about the album or, even better, to purchase it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Churches and Haunted Houses

The other day, I saw a sign advertising "a live, multimedia, theatrical performance that will scare the 'Hell' out of you."  It wasn't your run-of-the-mill Halloween haunted house, it was actually a production put on by a local church, no doubt with the best of evangelistic intentions.

Though certainly not my cup of tea, my purpose here is not to out-and-out condemn this type of practice.  I would recommend though that before any church hosts such an event, they at least consider Russell Moore's thoughts as to why this type of outreach often misses the mark:
1. They’re not scary enough.
2. They assume people’s problem is that they don’t know about judgment.
3. They abstract judgment from the love of God. 
4. They abstract judgment from the glory of God. 
5. It’s hard to cry at a Judgment House. 
6. The Holy Spirit doesn’t usually like to work that way. 
7. They’re easier to pull off than talking to people.
Click here to read his entire post, in which he fleshes out each of the points.

Wednesdays Words of Wisdom...Pascal on Original Sin

"It is, however, astonishing that the mystery most distant from our knowledge, that of the transmission of sin, should be a thing without which we can have no knowledge of ourselves. For without doubt there is nothing more shocking to our reason that to say that the sin of the first man has made culpable those who, being so remote from this source, seem incapable of participating in it. This transmission not only seems impossible to us, it even appears very unjust...Certainly nothing shocks us more harshly than this doctrine. And yet without this most incomprehensible of mysteries, we are incomprehensible to ourselves. The knot of our condition takes its twists and turns in this abyss, so that man is more unintelligible without this mystery than this mystery is unintelligible to man."

Blaise Pascal