From the Pastor’s Desk – May 9

I was on the road most of yesterday so I didn’t get a chance to put this together until today.  Here are some of the things I’ve been reading this week.

Equality Act (HR-5) in Congress – This is a link to a writeup from VCY’s report on HR-5, the Equality Act which is currently in Congress. In brief, the Equality Act would amend a number of federal laws by elevating sexual orientation and gender identity (LGBQT…) to the same level as race in areas such as public accommodation, employment, etc. Most significantly, this law would remove religious protections in these matters. Certainly keep this in your prayers.

Indescribable – During the Children’s Message on Sunday, the book that I pulled out of the bag was a neat little devotion for children called “Indescribable: 100 Devotions for Kids About God and Science.” If you are interested in learning more about the devotion book, I’ve provided a link to the Amazon bookstore.

The Funeral is becoming a Relic: With three funerals in the church last week, the headline of this article in the Washington Post certainly caught my eye.  “Death is a given, but not the time-honored rituals. An increasingly secular, nomadic and casual America is shredding the rules about how to commemorate death.”  I’m not sure that is the case in rural, Christian communities, but I do see some changes in the way people approach planning their funeral.  What I find striking about the article is that there is never any mention of the hope or the promise of eternal life in Jesus to which a Christian funeral bears witness.  On a side note: there will be no “water ballet” at my funeral.

Slow Church Growth: As we continue to discuss ways in which we can help facilitate growth in our congregation and better reach out into our community, this article from 9 Marks comes as a helpful reminder.  “The desire for fast growth isn’t sinful, but it is sinful to make an idol out of the size of your ministry. And sometimes, the line between godly and ungodly ambition is dangerously thin.”

Finally, there was something strangely appealing about this video. Whether its the joy of discovery or the childlike wonder, or just watching golf balls get squished, this has become one of my favorite videos. Warning – there’s a lot of physics – elastic verses plastic deformation, linear collision velocity, etc – but it looks like a lot of fun!

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From the Pastor’s Desk

Here are some of the things that have come across my desk this week.

The Dangers of Social Media: From Crossway Publishers, Tony Reinke points out 10 Things You Should Know about the Danger of Media. I found #7 particularly powerful: Media endangers our prayer life… “The worst of our compulsive social media habits are filling our days and corroding our prayer lives.”

How to Listen to Preaching: This is a great article on based on The Westminster Larger Catechism, questions 154-160.  As a pastor, my endeavor is to always be growing in my ability to write and preach sermons that are Biblical, Christ-Centered, God-Honoring, and effective in calling sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and encouraging believers in their walk with Him. In this article, Joel Smit encourages the listeners in how they are to prepare themselves to hear the Word.

Today in Church History: On this day in 418 AD, a relatively minor Synod meeting of the North African Church assembled, but it made a major declaration.  The council met to take action concerning the errors of Caelestius, a disciple of Pelagius, denounced the Pelagian doctrines of human nature, original sin, grace, and perfectibility; and it fully approved the teaching of Augustine.

Allergy Season is Upon Us: As the Zyrtek bottle is nearly empty at my house, I recalled this article from a while ago. Here’s the take away illustration:

And Finally:

A random video about the massive city of an Ant Hill.

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More Readings From the Pastor’s Desk

Following last weeks blog, I thought I’d share more of what I’ve been reading, what I’ve stumbled upon while studying, or what’s randomly arrived in my inbox.  Enjoy!

  • Update on Notre Dame
    It was shocking to see the massive fire in the attic and roof of the beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. To think that such a structure which has stood for 850 years could be lost so quickly was astonishing.  But as this article from the Gospel Coalition points out, while tragic, we shouldn’t be quick to say that this fire is not a moral lesson.
    This is another excellent articlefrom PCA Ruling Elder and writer for National Review, David French on how the Notre Dame fire affects all Christians, and the hope we can find in the midst of the ashes.
  • The Love of God
    I’ve been doing research on 1 John 4:19, “God is Love,” and found two interesting articles I wanted to share.  The first is from A.W. Pink’s book, The Attributes of God. If you click here, it will take you to the chapter on the Love of God, but the entire book is available on the website for free. It is a great read and I highly recommend it.
    Second, I love the hymn by Frederick Lehman, “The Love of God,” particularly the final verse

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.

In researching the hymn at Hymnary.org, I came across this note:

The first two stanzas are Lehman’s own work. The third, by his own account, he added based on lines “found written by a demented man on the wall of his narrow room in the asylum where he died”; those words are a translation of an Aramaic poem, “Haddamut”, written ca. 1050 by Rabbi Meir of Worms, Germany. They hearken back to the 31st Sura of the Qur’an, where one reads
If all the trees on earth were pens, and the ocean were ink, replenished by seven more oceans, the writing of God’s wonderful signs and creations would not be exhausted; surely God is All-Mighty, All-Wise.

If you read the hymn in its entirety, it is undoubtedly Christ-centered and God-honoring, but it is interesting to note the source of the material.

  • Sunday’s Coming
    If you’re not familiar with S.M. Lockridge’s Good Friday message, make sure to take a moment and listen. I listen to this each year as I prepare for the celebration of Good Friday and the Resurrection. I find the video distracting, so turn up the volume, and just listen.
  • Daily Dose of Greek
    In case your thinking to yourself, “I wish I had a way to learn to read and understand Biblical Greek” (and let’s be honest, who isn’t thinking that), here’s a great, free, website to help you out. They even have apps for your smart phones and tablets. If you’re serious about learning, I’d even be willing to start a Greek New Testament reading group.
    I anxiously await your calls.
  • Pastors are Special
    At the risk of seeming self-serving, I share this article that I read today. I don’t share this to garner your pity, but because I would agree with everything he has said here, and seek your prayers for the effectiveness of my ministry, and my diligence for the work before me.
  • I Miss B.C.
    Finally, I came across this old comic strip and it reminded me how much I miss reading Johnny Hart’s B.C. comic with my dad on Sunday mornings.easter comic

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Readings from the Pastor’s Desk

Today, rather than my usual blog, I thought I’d share links to the things I’ve been reading (or viewing) today. Some are deeply theological or biblical, while others are just food for thought.  I pray you will be encouraged and blessed as I was.

  • Expiation and Propitiation
    I have to admit, I often don’t do a very good job of keeping these clearly defined. L. Michael Morales does a great job in TableTalk this month in defining the two terms, and showing how both are tied up in the work of the cross. “A Christian basks securely in the warm rays of the Father’s favor only because that storm of judgement has already broken in the full measure of its fury on the crucified Son of God. His shed blood cleanses us from our sins, removing our guilt from the sight of God.”
  • On the Immutability of God
    In preparation for tonight’s Middle School study on “God Never Changes” I came across this site from Precept Austin, which has a lot of great quotes on the immutability (unchangeability) of God. I’ve posted several readings from Tozer and Pink here before, and both are found in this article.  My favorite has to be A.W. Pink’s, “God cannot change for the better, for He is perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse.”
  • A Little Biblical Archaeology
    I had a class on Biblical History and Archaeology in college, taught by a former archaeologist from Jerusalem who actually passed around ancient oil lamps and coins dating back to the time of Abraham. Since then, I have always been interested in the finds of archaeology that are tied to Biblical history.  Here’s a short video about some recent important finds in Jerusalem.
  • Listen to the Bible
    Someone was sharing this week how they were listening to the Bible on CD in their car. Any opportunity we can get to be in the Word of God is a good thing.  If you’re looking for a way to hear the ESV Online, this link is for you.  If you want to hear what the Greek sounds like, click here.  When I read Greek, it sounds like Spanish, so please don’t ask me to read it out loud.
  • What did Shakespeare Sound Like?
    This has nothing to do with my studies, but it sure was fun to watch!

Enjoy!

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Understanding Dry Spells

The following is a devotion from A.W. Tozer found in his book, The Root of the Righteous. While here in South Dakota this spring has been wet and the fields are soggy, even when the rains fall we can find ourselves in times of spiritual draught.  I post this as encouragement to any who call upon the name of the Lord with a dry throat.


Probably nothing else bothers the earnest Christian quite so much as the problem of those dry spells that come to him occasionally, no matter how faithfully he tried to obey God and walk in the light. He can never predict them and he cannot explain them. And there lies the difficulty.

It might comfort one who finds himself in the middle of an emotional desert to know that his experience is not unique. The sweetest and holiest saints whose feet have graced this earth have at some time found themselves there. The books of devotion which have come to us from the past almost all have at least one chapter dealing with what some of them call “aridity” in the Christian life. The very word describes the experience so many of us known only too well. Our heart feels “arid” and nothing we can do will bring the rain. It is good to know during such an internal drought that it has been a common experience with the saints.

One reason for our distress at such times is the knowledge that sin is one cause of aridity in the life; we naturally reason that if sin brings drought and we are suffering a dry spell, then we must have been guilty of sin whether we know it or not. The way to deal with the problem is to remember that sin is not the only cause of dryness. If after an honest examination of our lives we are sure that we are not living in a state of disobedience and that no past sin is unforgiven, we may dismiss sin as the cause of our dry condition. We do God no honor and ourselves no good by assuming that we have sinned if we have not. Indeed we play straight into Satan’s hands by accepting the morbid suggestion that somewhere in the mysterious depths of our nature there must be some sin that is displeasing God and causing Him to hide His face from us. What God has cleansed we should not call unclean; to do so would be unbelief.

“Religion,” say the theologians, “lies in the will.” What our will is set to do is what really matters at last. Aridity has nothing to do with the will. “If any man will,” said Jesus; He did not say “If any man feel.” Feeling is the play of emotion over the will, a kind of musical accompaniment to the business of living, and while it is indeed most enjoyable to have the band play as we march to Zion it is by no means indispensable.  We can work and walk without music and if we have true faith we can walk with God without feeling.

Normally we may expect some degree of spiritual joy to be present most of the time. Fellowship with God is so delightful that it cannot but provide a large measure of joy; but we are talking now about those times when our joy fades out and the presence of the Lord is felt only feebly or not at all. Such times demand that we exercise faith. Moments of great spiritual delight do not require much faith; if we never came down from the mount of blessing we might easily come to trust in our own delights rather than in the unshakeable character of God. It is necessary therefore that our watchful Heavenly Father withdraw His inward comforts from us sometimes to teach us that Christ alone is the Rock upon which we must repose our everlasting trust.

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Church Health Check

I have recently finished reading Harry Reeder’s “From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church,” and I wholeheartedly recommendembers it to you. Reeder has served as a Pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, a seminary teacher, and a conference speaker, specializing in church revitalization.

 

Church revitalization is a necessary ministry, but one that is often overlooked.  We spend a lot of time and energy on planting new churches and on moderating fighting churches, but very little time or attention is ever given to the longstanding church that seems to find itself unable to grow.  “Embers to a Flame,” doesn’t offer a program to launch church growth, but brings the church back to its foundations to fan the ember to a flame.

Reeder presents 10 strategies for revitalization:

  1. Connect to the Past: Learning from the Past without Living in the Past
  2. A Call to Repentance: Cover Up or ‘Fess Up
  3. Gospel-Driven and Christ-Centered Ministry: The First of the First Things
  4. Personal Gospel Formation: The Discipline of Grace
  5. The Priority of Intercessory Prayer: The Ministry of Prayer
  6. The Primacy of Preaching: The Ministry of the Word
  7. Staying on Mission with a Vision: Simplicity in Focus in a Day of Complexity and Chaos
  8. Servant Leadership Multiplication: An Effective Yet Neglected Strategy for Church vitality
  9. Small-Group Discipleship: The Biblical Delivery System for Effective Discipleship
  10. A Great Commitment to the Great Commission: The W.E.L.L. Church.

What I thought I’d share here is a brief overview of the wellness check of the Church. If you see your church in this, perhaps it’s time to pray for and work toward revitalization. Here are some of the symptoms of a sick church:

A Focus on Programs – Dying churches tend to be focused on programs, pinning their hope for success on the latest organized ministry for pre-packaged church-growth plan.

Nostalgia and Tradition – Dying churches are often living in the past… People are hoping that the pastor will move the church backward, to recapture the “glory days.”

A Maintenance Mentality – Hoping to just hold on, replacing the people they lost just so they can meet budget. They are merely polishing a monument rather than building a movement of God’s grace.

Distraction from the Gospel – Churches have grown ineffective in reaching the world around them because they have lost sight of the centrality of God’s grace. Something else has become more important than living according to the gospel and sharing it with others.

Do you see these symptoms in your church? How can you address these problems? If these are the problems your church faces, what is the solution?

I encourage you to get a copy of “Embers to a Flame” and see how revitalization is possible, and let us pray and work to that end.

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Why We Struggle to Pray

I don’t think I speak out of turn when I say that each of us struggles to pray. 

You may be a saint in Christ who has journeyed long through the life of faith, or you may be new to following after Jesus, but each of us knows that we don’t pray as we should. Even the mightiest of prayer warriors today, when reading through the old prayers of the Puritans of old, knows we stand in the shadows of the giants of faith.

All who have been brought to life by the saving work of Christ are new creations, made for communion with the Triune God; the old life is gone, a new life has begun! And yet the vestiges of the old life cling to us so closely that the means of grace given to strengthen our faith become burdens that are found difficult and left untried.

Why do we struggle so with prayer? The simple answer is this: Sin. It is sin that keeps us from God, sin that keeps those who are made for glory wallowing in the mire, sin that drowns out the quiet voice of prayer with the clamor of the world.

In order to combat this sin which keeps us from prayer, let us examine, briefly, some of the ways sin affects our praying.

5 Reasons we don’t pray

  1. We think too little of God

    This may be our greatest sin.  We simply think too little of God. That can mean we either don’t think of God as often as we ought, or we think God too little, or both.  We don’t desire God, we don’t seek Him out, we aren’t captivated by His glory. 
    I’ve seen people scour their house and spend days in advance of a friend or family member coming to visit, and their schedules are reworked entirely so that they can spend time with the one they love. We’ll spend hundreds of dollars to go watch a game to see our favorite athlete, or go to hear someone in concert, coming back wearing their merchandise. But to spend 5 minutes in prayer with their Heavenly Father, with the creator of the universe, with their Lord and Savior is just too much to ask.
    Thomas Watson, one of those old Puritans, nails us perfectly, when he wrote, “Jesus went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.”
    Let that sink in for a minute.
    How small our affections for are toward God, how little we esteem the one who came to save us from our sins, that we do not turn to Him in prayer.
    If you want to grow in prayer, think highly of God.  Look upon Him in glory, think of His steadfast love for you in Christ Jesus, and praise Him in prayer!

  2. We disobey his commands

    We are like our first father, like Adam, disobeying the very command of God. God told Adam that he was not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam ate, falling into disobedience and rebellion.  Throughout scripture, we are commanded to pray:
    “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;” Isaiah 55:6
    “Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
    “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6
    “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” Ephesians 6:18
    “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
    “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” 1 Timothy 2:8
    We don’t pray because in our sin, we disobey God.
    If you want to grow in prayer, see prayer as an act of joyful obedience to God’s command.

  3. We don’t trust God or His Word

    Not only do we struggle with obedience, we also struggle with doubts. Our doubts, our faithlessness, keeps us from turning to God in prayer.  God has has promised to hear us in prayer,
    2 Chronicles 7:14 If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
    Psalm 10:17 O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear
    1 John 5:14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
    God also promises that when we ask in Christ name, he will give to us all that we ask:
    Matthew 18:19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
    John 16:23-24 “In that day you will not question Me about anything Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.
    To not seek the provision of God in prayer is simply faithlessness.  We do not trust God, and so we do not turn to God in prayer.
    If you want to grow in prayer, then look to the ways that the Lord has proven Himself good, gracious, and faithful in the past.  Every promise of God is Yes and Amen in Jesus. He has shown you that as almighty God he is able, and He has proven that as your heavenly Father he is willing.  Faithfully turn to Him in prayer.

  4. We trust too much in ourselves

    In connection to the previous point, we don’t seek God’s provision in prayer because we think we can do without prayer, that we can provide for what we need on our own.  Again, this is an echo of the fall, Adam thought he could become like God, determining Good and Evil, right and wrong, and so he took the fruit.  We see the paycheck or the awards and accolades of man, and we boast in our accomplishments, and think we have the power to provide for ourselves.  What need do we have that we have not met? Why do we need to pray?
    Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread.  Everything we need, life, breath, food, shelter; all is from the hand of God. Our wisdom, our strength, our ability to accomplish the work set before us, it must come from God. Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  Marin Luther is noted for saying, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
    If you want to grow in prayer, think less of yourself, and see God as the source of your every need.  There is no concern so great, no care so small, that we should not take it to the Lord in prayer.  McCheyne, another Puritan, once taught, “for every one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” That’s a good place to start.

  5. Our hearts are in the wrong place

    So often we get frustrated because our prayers are not answered the way we want them to be, so we give up praying.  We think we know better than God what we need, and when prayer doesn’t get us what we want, we leave it behind. James 4:3-4 teaches, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
    Prayer does have great power, but the power does not lie in changing God, or even necessarily in changing the world around us.  The greatest power in prayer is that it brings us to rest in and trust the sovereign God to whom we pray.  We put all things into His hands. He is able to heal, and He is also able to work His good purposes in the midst of sickness and loss. He is able to deliver, even though His deliverance leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.
    If you want to grow in prayer, set your affections upon the Lord, delight yourself in the Him, yearn for His glory. When your greatest delight is to see God glorified in your life, to see the name of Christ exalted, He will be sure to answer that prayer!

Beloved, may you grow in prayer, delighting in the sweet fellowship with God for which you were created!

SDG

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