Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year to Remember

For many reasons, 2012 was truly a year to remember for me. I'd like to share two of them with you.

In the spring, my eight-year old daughter and I attended the Girl Scout Daddy-Daughter Dance. We had a wonderful time, but what made it especially memorable was the fact that they had a "dance competition" wherein each of the 100+ couples were judged for their dancing skills, and we took home the trophy as the night's champions!

My daughter has ALWAYS wanted to win a trophy like her big brother (who has several). And now, having gotten one, she has truly enjoyed it. Each night ever since, when she goes to bed she turns the trophy (which is on her nightstand) to face her bed so that she can gaze upon it from there. To see the joy that she experienced that night was such a memorable experience that it brings tears to my eyes as I type these words.

That was not the only exciting parenting moment though. To say my now thirteen-year old son loves baseball is a HUGE understatement. And without going into details, let me just say that the 2011 Little League season ended in massive heartbreak.

The summer of 2012 more than made up for it though. I help coach his team and we were excited to find out at the start of the season that we were going to be the Cardinals this year. Our enjoyment continued through an undefeated regular season with Jack batting cleanup. In the league championship game it looked like it would all be for naught when we fell behind 8-1 early, but after a great comeback, we led a wild game 19-18 in the last inning with my son on the mound. Much to his parents' relief, he struck out the final batter to secure the championship and celebration ensued!

What made both of these moments so special for me was not just my involvement in them. My excitement wasn't tied to MY success as a dancer or MY success as a coach. My excitement was bound up in the excitement of my children, both of whom I dearly love.

And as I consider how much I love my children, it occurs to me that God loves his children infinitely more. How incredibly blessed I am!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...DeYoung on Pleasing God with our Obedience

"Many Christians believe that all their righteous deeds are nothing but filthy rags. After all, that’s what Isaiah 64:6 seems to say: even your best deeds are dirty and worthless. But I don’t think this is what Isaiah means. The “righteous deeds” Isaiah has in mind are most likely the perfunctory rituals offered by Israel without sincere faith and without wholehearted obedience. In Isaiah 65:1–7 the Lord rejects Israel’s sinful sacrifices. They are an insult to the Lord, smoke in his nostrils, just like the ritual “obedience” of Isaiah 58 that did not impress the Lord because his people were oppressing the poor. Their “righteous deeds” were “filthy rags” (64:6, KJV) because they weren’t righteous at all. They looked good but were a sham, a literal smoke screen to cover up their unbelief and disobedience.

"But we should not think that every kind of 'righteous deed' is like a filthy rag before God. In fact the previous verse, Isaiah 64:5, says 'you [God] meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.' It is not impossible for God’s people to commit righteous acts that please God...

"Why do we imagine God to be so unmoved by our heart-felt attempts at obedience? He is, after all, our heavenly Father. What sort of father looks at his daughter’s homemade birthday card and complains that the color scheme is all wrong? What kind of mother says to her son, after he gladly cleaned the garage but put the paint cans on the wrong shelf, “This is worthless in my sight”? What sort of parent rolls his eyes when his child falls off the bike on the first try? There is no righteousness that makes us right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right with God by grace alone through faith alone and therefore have been adopted into God’s family, many of our righteous deeds are not only not filthy in God’s eyes, they are exceedingly sweet, precious, and pleasing to him."

Kevin DeYoung
The Hole in our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Carols of Christmas...Hallelujah!

The King's College Choir sings the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. Merry Christmas!
  Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

What Christmas is All About

An annual reminder...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Who is this Jesus?

Who is this Jesus whose birth we celebrate? He is the King! But he is no ordinary king.

I've shared this video of So Long Moses before. It's from Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God, and I think it does an amazing job of capturing how we are often looking for the wrong things in Christ. May it serve as a corrective to my heart and yours this Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of our King!

Christians Sometimes Miss the Point of Christmas, Too

The other day I was at the store looking at cards when I saw a pretty, red and gold card with the following acrostic emblazoned upon its front:

Holy One

I was thankful that amidst all the commercialization and materialism of Christmas, someone had remembered the Reason for the Season (do I need a little TM after that?). I couldn't help but shake my head in dismay though when I opened the card to find this inside:

Did you catch the word that set me off?


Too often we (even we, in the Church) think of God as being like Santa Claus, keeping two lists: "Naughty" and "Nice." The whole point of Christmas though is that not one of us is good enough to attain "Nice" list standing. What we (each and every one of us) DESERVE is nothing less than the convicting judgment of a righteous God, who perfectly understands how very short we fall from the standard of holiness that is required of us.

But that's the great thing about Christmas. In it we see the grand manifestation of the grace of God in the fact that he did not give us what we DESERVE. Rather he took on human flesh that he might live the perfect life we fail to live, and die the atoning death we DESERVE to die. You see, for those who trust in Christ, God doesn't keep a record of your naughtiness to hold against you. Rather, he has worked graciously, savingly, forgivingly, "canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross." (Colossians 2:14)

It's understandable that non-Christians would miss the point of Christmas. But if you call yourself by the name of the One who was laid in a manger over 2000 years ago, please don't make that same mistake.

A Word for Preachers...Stott on Studying the Word of God

"The systematic preaching of the Word is impossible without the systematic study of it. It will not be enough to skim through a few verses in daily Bible reading, nor to study a passage only when we have to preach from it. No. We must daily soak ourselves in the Scriptures. We must not just study, as through a microscope, the linguistic minutiae of a few verses, but take our telescope and scan the wide expanses of God's Word, assimilating its grand theme of divine sovereignty in the redemption of mankind. 'It is blessed,' wrote C. H. Spurgeon, 'to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your spirit is flavoured with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.'"

John Stott
The Preacher's Portrait

Carols of Christmas...O Holy Night!

David Phelps singing O Holy Night!

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Carols of Christmas...Joy to the World

Here is Take 6 with Joy to the World as well as a bonus of an additional Christmas medley.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Carols of Christmas...Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Most of the songs I've included in the Songs of Christmas series have (very intentionally) leaned away from the secular and more in the direction of Christmas hymns. This one is an exception, but I wanted to include it because it is from the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, because Judy Garland was so incredibly talented, and because I do indeed hope you have a merry little Christmas.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Responding to Tragedy

One week ago, a devastatingly horrific tragedy hit the community of Newtown, Connecticut. While many agonized over why a sovereign God would allow such a thing to happen, sadly (albeit not unpredictably) some Christian leaders were quick to chalk it up to the fact that our (supposed) once "Christian nation" had "turned its back on God."

This post by Peter Wehner does an excellent job of summing up my reaction to such comments and I recommend you read it. But if you lack the time or the desire, please at least read this one very helpful paragraph from it:
The workings of God in the midst of tragedy cannot be reduced to a simplistic moral mathematics in which sin yields to disaster, in part because America is not a covenant community on the model of ancient Israel. The community of faith is found in every nation.  Believers share the blessings and tragedies of their neighbors. Rather than declaring the suffering of their neighbors to be deserved, they should work and pray for the common good.
Click here to read the entire post.

(HT: Daniel Rose)

Friday Fun...Tim Hawkins and Christmas Songs

I've shared this one before, but it's a pretty good one for the Christmas season, especially after today's post in the Carols of Christmas series...

Christmas Carols...Do You Hear What I Hear?

Orla Fallon and Meav of Celtic Women fame sing Do You Hear What I Hear?

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Picture of the Adopting Love of God

As I sat watching this with tears in my eyes, I was overcome by two facts:
  1. By his blood, Christ Jesus has "ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation," (Revelation 5:9) that we might together become one family.
  2. When God chose us to be his adoptive children, he did so not because of anything that was (or wasn't) in us, but because of his great mercy and our great need. 
 Please take six minutes and watch this powerful video.

(HT: Challies)

Where Was God?

This week, a few high profile Christians have been in the news for their comments regarding last Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Rightly or wrongly, they have been understood to have said, in essence, "What do we expect when we, as a nation, have escorted God out of our schools?" Friend and fellow Michigan pastor, David Crabb, reminds us that to adopt such a view would be to woefully underestimate who the sovereignty of God.
"In other words, you can’t kick God out of anything. This nation can rage against God, but His sovereign control hasn’t slipped a bit. God isn’t a disappointed grandfather who knows when He’s not welcome, He is an eternal Sovereign who holds the hearts of kings in His hand and wisely rules over all things."
Click here to read David's entire post, and to see why such an understanding of God's sovereignty is so important to maintain.

Carols of Christmas...God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

The Annie Moses Band performs God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

A Christmas Letter

I never met my great-grandfather, Frank J. Scribner (he died four years before I was born). I'm quite certain I would have enjoyed him. Not only did he share my ministerial calling, but by all accounts he was kind, intelligent and loving: the kind of man I aspire to be.

Though I never did meet him, I do feel as if I've gotten to know him a little through reading his journals, sermons and various personal correspondences. Among these are this Christmas letter which he penned 55 years ago, and which I enjoy reading annually this time of year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Scotty Smith on Conduits of Compassion

"We are redeemed to become conduits, not merely receptacles of God's love and compassion. The river of his affections will not only flow into all of our relationships, but it will also take us into the dark places where poverty, ignorance, racism, oppression, hunger, nakedness, homelessness, and hopelessness thrive--or as the hymn writer has said, 'far as the curse is found.' It is God's plan to use you and me to give his fallen world a significant taste of what it is going to be like when "no longer will there be any curse' (Revelation 22:3). Indeed, our merciful and mighty Father boldly proclaims, 'I am making everything new!' (Revelation 21:5)."

Scotty Smith
Objects of His Affection: Coming Alive to the Compelling Love of God

Carols of Christmas...O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O  Come, Emmanuel, as sung by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge. 


Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Carols of Christmas...O Come, All Ye Faithful

Celtic Women sing O Come, All Ye Faithful.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Monday, December 17, 2012

We Must Do Something

This is a little out of the ordinary for the topic of a post here. But I thought there was much wisdom in the words of Joe Scarborough in the video below. He powerfully makes the point that whatever we, as individuals, happen to believe about various issues related to mass murders such as that in Newtown, Connecticut, two things are certain:
  1. It is a complex, multi-faceted situation, with no simple solutions, and 
  2. We MUST do something.
Take a few minutes and watch the video below, which is an edited clip of a longer statement made by Scarborogh on today's Morning Joe.

Click here to view the full context of Scarborough's remarks.

A Word for Preachers...Mohler on the Preacher's Privilege

"What a high privilege it is to be a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Lord has given us the honor, the calling, the stewardship and the commission of preaching a saving gospel to a world that is in desperate need of salvation--and all to the end that Jesus would be worshiped as Savior in every tongue, from every tribe and people and nation.

"Looking at Paul's urgency in the book of Romans, we are confronted with a direct challenge. Do we really believe that the world needs to hear the message of the gospel? Do we really believe that the gospel saves? Do we really believe that faith comes by hearing the Word of God? If so, then our minds should be filled with no more urgent desire than to preach. This is not an option for us or for the church. It is our commission. "

Al Mohler
He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World

Carols of Christmas...Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, as sung at St.Paul's Cathedral in  London.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Carols of Christmas...Amen!

Adam McKnight and the Pointer Sisters join the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for Amen!

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Carols of Christmas...Little Drummer Boy

By request, Bob Seger adds a little Michigan flavor to the series with Little Drummer Boy.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Fun...Silent Night at Taylor University

What happens when you mix a bunch of college kids, the joy of the Christmas season, the stress of pending final exams, and a basketball game? Well, watch the video below from Taylor University and find out. In it you will see action from last Friday night's traditional "Silent Night" game.

For almost 30 years, students have packed the gym at the NAIA school in Upland, Indiana for a basketball game the Friday night before finals. This year's game was against Akron-Wayne and as is tradition, the standing-room-only crowd stood in eerie, complete silence. Until the Trojans scored their 10th point. And then...

Below is a video of what it looked like from the stands...

Carols of Christmas...Silent Night

The Winchester Cathederal Choir sings Silent Night.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Making Sure We See Christ at Christmas

If you are a Christian, it's likely that in recent weeks you've heard someone say (or said yourself) that we need to make sure we keep "Christ" in Christmas. I guess it's only natural; in our ever-increasingly secular society, the reality is that Christmas too has become increasingly secular. Materialism, Santa Claus and any number of other competitors vie to steal our attention from the Savior.
I saw a good post this morning though from Jared Wilson that took a slightly different tack. It was entitled, Don’t Let Christmas Distract You From Jesus, and I found that it really struck a chord with me. In it he states,
There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus...(T)here is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions...Don’t get distracted from Jesus by “Jesus.” This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel.
Click here to read the entire post.

Carols of Christmas...The First Noel

The First Noel, as sung by the University of Utah Singers.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Ryken on Legalism

"Christianity is not a performance-based religion. Those who are saved by grace also live by grace, and their growth in grace is due to the gracious work of God's Spirit. This is what preserves Calvinism from legalism. If someone who claims to be a Calvinist turns out to be a legalist, he or she must not understand the doctrines of grace very well after all, because the true Calvinist is overwhelmed by God's mercy for sinners. A graceless Calvinist is thoroughly repugnant to the gospel, for unless the pursuit of holiness is motivated by an ever-deepening love for God and his grace, it quickly becomes joyless and fruitless."

Philip Ryken

Carols of Christmas...Angels from the Realms of Glory

The choir from King's College in Cambridge sings Angels from the Realms of Glory set to the tune of (and with the chorus from) Angels We Have Heard on High. Not sure if this is the norm for these songs in England, but it sure sounds great!

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Indelible Grace VI: Joy Beyond The Sorrow

I recently received the newest offering from the folks at Indelible Grace. It is entitled Indelible Grace VI: Joy Beyond The Sorrow and is exactly what fans of IG have come to expect: Rich theological content from hymnists such as John Newton, William Cowper, Horatius Bonar and Martin Luther set to newer tunes. Click here to read a review of the album from talented musician and fellow-pastor, Zac Hicks.

One of the things I have always appreciated about Indelible Grace is their recognition that the Christian life is not all "ups," but also inevitably includes many "downs." As the title suggests, this album deals largely with the fact that our hope for the former is largely what sustains us through the latter. 

The title Joy Beyond The Sorrow actually comes from the lyrics of one of Bonar's hymns on the album, Until the Day Break. Its lyrics are among my favorite on the album and they do a good job of capturing the spirit of the album as a whole.

Until The Day Break by Horatius Bonar

For the vision of the Bridegroom
Waits the well-beloved Bride,
Severed only for a season
From her Well-beloved's side.

For the hour when morn ascendeth,
And the shadows disappear,
For the signs of heavenly glory,
She is waiting, waiting here!

Morn of morns, it comes at last,
All the gloom of ages past.
For the day of days the brightest
She is waiting, waiting here!

For the coming of the Bridegroom,
Whom, though yet unseen, we love;
For the King of saints, returning
In His glory from above;

For the shout that shakes the prison,
For the trumpet loud and clear,
 For the voice of the archangel,
She is waiting, waiting here!

Morn of morns, it comes at last,
All the gloom of ages past.
For the day of days the brightest
She is waiting, waiting here!

For the light beyond the darkness,
When the reign of sin is done,
When the storm has ceased its raging,
And the haven has been won;

For the joy beyond the sorrow,
Joy of the eternal year,
For the resurrection splendor,
She is waiting, waiting here!

Morn of morns, it comes at last,
All the gloom of ages past.
For the day of days the brightest
She is waiting, waiting here!

Click here for more information or to purchase the album.

Carols of Christmas...What Child is This?

What Child Is This? from Norwegian soprano Sissel Kyrkjebø.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Word for Preachers...Boice on the Need for Personal Holiness

"If you keep close to God, you will keep from sin. But if you sin persistently, you will fall away from God. Then you will rename your sin. You will not talk about pride, the great sin; you will call it 'self-esteem,' 'self-worth,' or what is 'due to me.' You will not talk about gluttony and materialism; you will talk about 'the good life.' You will not talk about disobedience; you will talk about 'shortcomings.' You will not talk about the Ten Commandments and your violation of them; you will talk about your 'mistakes.' It is only when you draw close to God that these things will become increasingly sinful in your sight. Only then will they work together to make you a preacher committed to calling men and women to repentance and faith in Christ before the judgment comes."

James Montgomery Boice
Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching

Carols of Christmas...Mary, Did You Know?

Kathy Mattea sings Mary, Did You Know?

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Carols of Christmas...Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Here's a little different take on the traditional Advent hymn, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus from Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Carols of Christmas...Of the Father's Love Begotten

In December of 2008 the Baylor Combined Choirs sang Of the Father's Love Begotten.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Fun/Carols of Christmas...Straight No Chaser

I've shared this one before and it's a little different than the rest of the Christmas songs I'm posting this year, but I enjoy it and figured it could do double duty as a Friday Fun entry too!

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Carols of Christmas...It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

You don't get much smoother than Ella Fitzgerald. Here she is singing It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Carols of Christmas...In the Bleak Midwinter

A few years ago, a poll was conducted of some of the top choirmasters and choral experts in the world. Respondents were asked to name the best Christmas carol ever. Before I saw the results of the poll, I had never heard of its winner. Perhaps you have not either. Do yourself a favor and listen to the Gloucester Cathedral Choir lead in singing In the Bleak Midwinter.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Iain Campbell on Faith

"Faith is the work of the Spirit of Christ, illuminating our minds as he unites us to our Lord. Such work is deep: it is of the heart in order that it might be in the mind, worked in the subconscious before it can become a genuine matter of the intellect. Such faith may often be assailed by doubt, but believers cannot finally be shaken out of their confidence in Christ."

Iain Campbell
Zeal for Godliness: Devotional Meditations on Calvin's Institutes

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Inkeeper by John Piper

John Piper reads his poem, The Inkeeper. (HT: Desiring God)

Carols of Christmas...O Little Town of Bethlehem

This is a different tune than many are used to, but I found this version sung by Aled Jones to be captivating.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: Discerning the Body

This Sunday I preached from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 on "Discerning the Body." The following is a brief excerpt from my sermon:
On the night when Jesus was betrayed--literally, on the night “he was being betrayed”--even in the midst of being betrayed, Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper. And it calls our attention to what the Gospels say about that night. What else did Jesus do on that that room...with his disciples? He took a towel and put it around his waist and then he got down on his knees with a basin of water and he washed his disciples' feet, each and every one of them. 
  • He washed the feet of Thomas, who would doubt his resurrection. 
  • He washed the feet of Peter, who would three times would deny him. 
  • He even washed the feet of Judas, who would betray him. 
That is the example of our Lord; that is the kind of love he showed us. And it is the kind of love we are required to show one another. And after washing their feet he issued to them a command…“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) This should always be the case; we should always have love for one another, but especially when we come to the Lord's table, it is necessary that we have love for one another.
 Click here to listen to this week's entire sermon as well as past sermons I've preached.

Carols of Christmas...Labor of Love

Jill Phillips singing Labor of Love from Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God.

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

A Word for Preachers...Boice on the Indispensability of Preachers

"Preaching is also the primary means of growth for the local church. There is a great deal of debate about this in our day, but it is the preaching of the Word that God most uses to build up a church, not only  numerically but above all (and far more importantly) in the spiritual depth and understanding of the people who make up the congregation.

"When we talk about the importance of preaching, preachers are inclined (modestly) to say, 'Well, after all, no one is indispensable.' And, of course, that is true, if we understand it in the right way. But it is false if we understand it in the wrong way. It is true that God does not need us. God does not need us to glorify Him. God does not need us to worship Him. God does not need us to proclaim the gospel. If the people at the time of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem had failed to cry out, the stones would have done so, Jesus said. God is well able to raise up preachers from stones. But at the same time it is true that if God has called a man to be a preacher in a particular situation, that man is, by the calling and disposition of God, indispensable for that situation. If he gives good leadership and provides good teaching from the Word, that church will go forward. If he fails to do it, that church will not go forward."

James Montgomery Boice
Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Carols of Christmas...Gesu Bambino

Heidi Joy with an English version of Gesu Bambino...

Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Carols of Christmas...Once in Royal David's City

This December I plan on posting a different Christmas song each day. Hope you enjoy! Today's entry is from the Choir of King's College in the U.K. I love the way this song starts quietly and then builds throughout.
Click here to see other posts in the Carols of Christmas series.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Fun...Caught on Camera

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Keller on the Dignity of Work

"We were built for work and the dignity it gives us as human beings, regardless of its status or pay. The practical implications of this principle are far-reaching. We have the freedom to seek work that suits our gifts and passions. We can be open to greater opportunities for work when the economy is weak and jobs are less plentiful. We no longer have any basis for condescension or superiority; nor is that any basis for envy or feelings of infidelity. And every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation."

Tim Keller
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Importance of Secondary Doctrines

In an age where many are (rightly) emphasizing the centrality of the gospel and uniting around this common focus, it can become all too easy to minimize "non-essentials" to a status of "non-importance." I really appreciated the helpful  corrective friend and fellow-Michigan pastor Jason Helopoulos offered in a guest post at Kevin DeYoung's blog today. His post included the following quote from 19th century Scottish Presbyterian Thomas Witherow:
Let a man once persuade himself that importance attaches only to what he is pleased to call essentials, whatever their number, and he will, no doubt, shorten his creed and cut away the foundation of many controversies; but he will practically set aside all except a very small part of the Scriptures. If such a principle does not mutilate the Bible, it stigmatizes much of it as trivial. Revelation is all gold for preciousness and purity, but the very touch of such a principle would transmute the most of it into dross.
Jason went on to write, 
Let us unite around the Gospel. Let us be clear in emphasizing and proclaiming it. Let us underscore the importance of justification by faith alone. Let us continually point ourselves and others to the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

But as we do this, let us never say or act as though the other doctrines and teachings of the Scripture are unimportant. “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). We can continue to uphold that which is at the heart of our faith and all the while not neglect or relegate the “secondary” doctrines to that of unimportance.
Click here to read the entire post.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Word for Preachers...Lloyd-Jones on Hesitancy to Preach

"Indeed it seems to be the case that the greater the preacher the more hesitant he has been generally to preach. Oftentimes such men have had to be persuaded by ministers and elders and others to do this; they so shrank from the dread responsibility. This was true of George Whitefield, one of the greatest and most eloquent preachers ever to adorn a pulpit. And it has been true of many others. My argument is, therefore, that a man who feels that he is competent, and that he can do this easily, and so rushes to preach without any sense of fear or trembling, or any hesitation whatsoever, is a man who is proclaiming that he has never been ‘called’ to be a preacher. The man who is called by God is a man who realises what he is called to do, and he so realises the awefulness of the task that he shrinks from it. Nothing but this overwhelming sense of being called, and of compulsion, should ever lead anyone to preach."

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones  
Preachers & Preaching

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Heidelberg Catechism Question 1

Q.  What is thy only comfort in life and death?

A.  That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Heidelberg Catechism, Question #1

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Word for Preachers...Stott on How We Handle Scripture

"It is certain that we cannot handle Scripture adequately in the pulpit if our doctrine of Scripture is inadequate. Conversely, evangelical Christians, who have the highest doctrine of Scripture in the Church, should be conspicuously the most conscientious preachers. The fact that we are not should cause our heads to hang in shame. If Scripture were largely a symposium of human ideas, though reflecting the faith of the earliest Christian communities, and lit up by an occasional flash of divine inspiration, then a fairly casual attitude to it would be pardonable. But if in Scripture we are handling the very words of the living God, 'words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit' (1 Cor. 2:13), God's words through men's, his own witness to his own Son, then no trouble should be too great in the study and expression of them."

John Stott

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tim Keller's Every Good Endeavor

I just ordered and am very much looking forward to reading Tim Keller's newest release, on the topic of vocation. It is entitled Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work, and below is a brief video preview of the book.

Every Good Endeavor from Redeemer City to City on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sermon: Living as Sojourners and Exiles

Like most of us, I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about politics, government and the election. A week ago Monday I posted A Christian View of the Election...and the Four Years that Follow which was among the most widely read blog posts I've written. Then on Sunday I preached a sermon entitled Living as Sojourners and Exiles,dealing with how exactly we are to live as Christians in America. The following is an excerpt from it:

Freedom is among our most cherished ideals in America. And America has unquestionably blessed by God. Our standard of living and our set of freedoms are unparalleled in human history. For this, we have much to be thankful.

Even so, America is not the “City of God.” Rather she is the city to which we have been exiled. As such, we must heed the words of Jeremiah when he says, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find our welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7) But we must not make the mistake Mitt Romney made a couple weeks ago when he proclaimed that “this nation is the hope of the earth.” No! The hope of the earth is Jesus Christ and him alone. For there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. And when the Bible speaks of a city set upon a hill, it is not speaking of America, but of the Church – that Church which Jesus Christ builds and tells us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it! (Matthew 16:18)

Let us therefore, like our father, Abraham “look forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God,” (Hebrews 11:10) for there is a day coming when “The kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15)

So we trust not in earthly kingdoms or Presidents. Not in politicians, Democrat or Republican. For if you place your confidence in politicians, you will be disappointed. And if you place your ULTIMATE confidence in them, you will ultimately find yourself devastated.

Rather we trust in our King who has once come and who is to return! And as we await that return, we live as sojourners and exiles: People who are honorable. People under authority. And people who are free.

Click here to listen to this and other sermons of mine in their entirety.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Testimonies of Grace in Genesis

A couple weeks ago, we at Calvary had the honor of hosting the 9th annual Mid-Michigan Conference on Reformed Theology. Our theme this year was Genesis: Five Testimonies to Grace. Each of the conference's five speakers chose a character from the Bible's first book and demonstrated from their lives how we might see the prevalance of the grace of God, even before the Law had been given! Our speakers were:
Click here to access audio from this year's conference (as well as from that from the previous eight years).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Russell Moore on Honoring the President

After a long night (and a far longer campaign), Russell Moore's blog post this morning really resonated with me and reflected much of what I've tried to communicate to others throughout this election cycle. The whole post is certainly worth reading, but if you must only take a quick glance, try the following paragraph:
"Christians, above all people, should pray for and show respect for our President and all of our elected officials. After all, unlike those who see politics as ultimate, we recognize that our political structures are important, but temporal, before an inbreaking kingdom of Christ. We don’t then need to be fomented into the kind of faux outrage that passes for much of contemporary political discourse. And, unlike those who see history as impersonal or capricious, we see behind everything a God who is sovereign over his universe."

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Chapell on the Cross of Christ

"The cross of Christ is the warrant for confidence in God's promises of ultimate good, despite great heartache. Jesus' agony did not indicate that God failed, or that the faith of the one who died was weak. The suffering caused and inflicted by evil (Psalm 22:16) still was within God's will (Acts 2:23) and served a purpose so loving, so powerful, and so good that our eternity changed as a result (Isaiah 53:4, 10; Matthew 26:31; Revelation 13:8). Through Jesus' resurrection, we learn that our God has power over evil, but through the cross he gains power over hearts. Though the human mind will reach its frayed end trying to reconcile earth's tragedies with God's goodness, the heart remains bound to God, knowing that the provider of the cross can mean no ill. Making much of the blood is neither maudlin nor manipulative; rather, the sacrifice of Christ is the heart's ultimate solace in times of great pain."

Bryan Chapell
The Hardest Sermons You'll Ever Have to Preach

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Christian View of the Election...and the Four Years That Follow

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

Tomorrow is election day 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 tomorrow.

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 serve not just because they got the most votes, but because it is the will of God that they do so (Romans 13:1).
  • As such, and in light of their position, they are entitled to our respect (1 Peter 2:17).
  • We are to pray, intercede and give thanks for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
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 tomorrow (and every day) be this: Come, Lord Jesus!

A Word for Preachers...Ferguson on Preaching to the Heart

"In the last analysis, this is what preaching to the heart is preaching to the heart is intended to produce: inner prostration of the hearts of our listeners through a consciousness of the presence and the glory of God. The result distinguishes authentic biblical preaching from any cheap substitute; it marks the difference between preaching about the Word of God and preaching the Word of God.

"The presence of this threefold openness, then, is most desirable in preaching. When there is the exposition of the Scriptures, an enlarging and opening of the preacher's heart, and the exposing of the hearts of the hearers, then the majesty of the Word of God written will be self-evident and the presence of the Word of God Incarnate will stand forth in all His glory."

Sinclair Ferguson
Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Luther on the Accusations of Satan

"So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: 'I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!'"

Martin Luther

Free Download of Ligonier's Luther and the Reformation

Today, in celebration of Reformation Day, Ligonier Ministries is offering a free download of R.C. Sproul’s recently released ten-part series, Luther and the Reformation. It is being made available in audio and video form. Take advantage of this great opportunity to learn about one of history's most influential figures.

Here I Stand, I Can Do No Other

Happy Reformation Day! 495 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg.While there were certainly those "pre-reformers" who came before him, this act serves as the symbolic start of the Protestant Reformation.

A little over three years later, at the Diet of Worms, Luther would be called before Emperor Charles V and was asked to recant his teachings. His famous response has been oft-portrayed. Others will no doubt today share a similar clip from the 2003 film Luther starring Joseph Fiennes. I figured I'd stand out a little and go back an extra half-century and share this clip from the 1953 version of Martin Luther starring Niall MacGinnis.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Word For Preachers...Stephen Smallman on Discipleship

"No doubt we will need to confess that we are weak disciples or new disciples or struggling disciples--but it is vital that believers understand that they are disciples...Those who are pastors and teachers in Christ's church should let this truth sink deeply into their consciousness so that it impacts their preaching. One reason Christians make discipleship an added commitment is that they have only heard the gospel as a call to believe in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation, not as a call to follow Jesus. We need to preach a gospel that assumes discipleship because to believe in Jesus is to follow Jesus as his disciple. Before we fault the members of our churches for their weakness in this area, we need to ask ourselves what is the content of the gospel message we have been consistently proclaiming."

Stephen Smallman
What Is Discipleship?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Scotty Smith on God's Story

"(W)e are made to live in God's Story...for God's glory...with God's joy. It's only within God's Story that our stories find their true meaning and destiny. This is the story that we have in common with God's people of every generation.

"Think about it: though we spend much of life relegating God to bit parts in our little autobiographies of self-fulfillment, God generously 'enfolds' us into His cosmic Story of transforming love! Could any of us possibly want or hope for more out of life?

"We are called into a story that enfolds our own stories in a grander narative--a story that is going somewhere, a story that is taking us with it. There really is a Great Story that goes on forever, in which each chapter gets better than the one before. We dwindle or we grow. Which will you choose?"

Scotty Smith
Restoring Broken Things: What Happens When We Catch a Vision of the New World Jesus is Creating

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jesus...Better Than Expected

We are blessed to live in an age where the internet provides us with a cornucopia of good teaching on which we might feast. And while I would strongly speak against making the internet your primary source of church involvement, listening to sermons online can be a wonderful supplement to an already healthy Christian life.

In this sense, I am thankful are Kevin DeYoung's pulpit ministry at University Reformed Church in East Lansing and for the fact that his sermons are so easily accessible via the internet. I regularly listen to Kevin's sermons and benefit both as a preacher seaking to hone his own preaching skills as well as (more importantly) as a Christian who is regularly fed as Kevin opens and expounds upon the word of God.

He recently preached form Acts 3 dealing with Peter's address at Solomon's Portico. In it we see that though Jesus may not be what we thought or were expecting, he is, in reality, far beyond our understanding and even better than our expectations. Kevin states,
Do you notice how Peter paints such a stunning picture showing the contrast between human assessment of Jesus and God's assessment of Jesus? There will always be what men and women think about Christ, and then there is what God says about Christ:

You thought he was a false prophet, Peter says, but according to Moses he was THE Prophet.
You spoke against him, but Samuel spoke of him.
You said his father was the devil, God said he would be the son of father Abraham.
You had no ears to hear the gospel, but the Lord said you should listen to whatever he says.
You considered him a blasphemer but he was the Holy One of Israel.
You treated him wickedly, but he was the Righteous One of God
You gave life to a murderer, and you murdered the Author of Life.
You handed him over to die, God raised him up from the dead.
You denied him before Pilate, God glorified him in heaven
The One you delivered to the Romans, God has made your Deliverer.
And the One you would not save, God sent to be your Savior.

Have you ever known a man like this? Has there ever been such a gulf between what a people thought of someone and what he actually was? And can you hear this Savior speaking to you?
Some of you have been sort of checking out the church, sort of checking out Christianity or you've been sort of sleep-walking through your faith for twenty years, and yet you know  God has been saying something to you. And if you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd this morning, do not harden your hearts. You have never met a Savior like this and you have need of a Savior like this. And if he is calling, you would do well to heed his call.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Word for Preachers...Sidney Griedanus on Christ-Centered Preaching

"In 1976, while a pastor in Delta, British Columbia, I preached a series of sermons on Ecclesiastes. After hearing one of these theocentric sermons, a retired pastor approached me and said, 'I appreciated your sermon, Sid, but could a rabbi have preached your sermon in a synagogue?' I was dumbfounded by the question, but it set me to thinking about the issue of Christocentric preaching. Of course, a rabbi and I have the Old Testament in common. Moreover, since wisdom is a reflection on 'customary orders in the world,' the message of wisdom literature would be the same for the church as for the synagogue. So yes, a rabbi could have preached that sermon in a synagogue without causing offense. But if that was the case, had I preached an 'Old Testament sermon' instead of a 'Christian sermon'? Should not my sermons on Old Testament passages reflect that these passages now function in the context of the New Testament? Should not the sermons of Christian preachers be distinctively Christian?"

Sidney Griedanus
Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes

Friday, October 19, 2012

Meditating on the Glory and Love of Christ

Today I came across this helpful reminder from John Owen in The Glory of Christ:
I would urge you to prepare your minds continually for heavenly things by meditating seriously on the glory of the love of Christ.  This cannot be done if the mind is always full of earthly thoughts.  Do not be satisfied with general thoughts of the love of Christ but think of it in a more detailed way.
  1. Consider whose love it is: the love of the Son of God who is also the Son of Man. As he is unique, so his love must be unique. 
  2. Think of the wisdom, goodness and grace shown in the eternal acts of his divine nature and of the pity an love of his human nature in all that he did and suffered for us (see Ephesians 3:19; Hebrews 2:14, 15; Revelation 1:5). 
  3. We deserved hatred, but, "in this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (John 4:10). 
  4. What power this love has in its effect on our lives, enabling us to bear fruit to his glory.

Friday Fun...A Bird's Eye View

Here is a guided tour of the earth, as seen from the International Space Station. Pretty cool.

(HT: Challies)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Owen on Beholding Christ's Glory

"Some say they have a desire to behold the glory of Christ by faith, but when they begin to view this glory they find it too high and difficult. They are overcome, like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. I admit that the weakness of out minds and our inability to understand much of the eternal glory Christ prevents us from keeping our thoughts in a steady and unbroken meditation for any length of time. Those who are not practised in the skill of holy meditation in general will not be able to meditate on this mystery in particular. But even so, when faith can no longer hold open the eyes of our understanding to think about the Sun of righteousness shining in his beauty, at least we can still, by faith, rest in holy admiration and love."

John Owen
The Glory of Christ

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Word for Preachers...Alexander on Preaching as Primarily Spiritual

Left to ourselves, we may do many things with a congregation. We may move them emotionally. We may attract them to ourselves personally, producing great loyalty. We may persuade them intellectually. We may educate them in a broad spectrum of Christian truth. But the one thing we can never do, left to ourselves, is to regenerate them spiritually and change them into the image of Jesus Christ, to bear his moral glory in their character. While that is the great calling of the church of Christ, it is essentially God’s work and not ours.

So it is possible to be homiletically brilliant, verbally fluent, theologically profound, biblically accurate and orthodox, and spiritually useless. That frightens me. I hope it frightens you, too.

Eric J. Alexander
What is Biblical Preaching?