Thursday, April 17, 2014

10 Blessed Years.

It's been ten years since I walked down the aisle with my Bride and made a covenant with her before God that I would always be with her and always love her, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.
  We've created some great memories and the Lord has blessed us with three incredible kids.


Thanks for saying yes babe. I love you!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Love People, Not Evangelism.

This year our theme at Oakdale Evangelical Free Church is "Evangelism: From Darkness to Light."

Evangelism is one of the most difficult works we are called to as God's people, but it is also one of the most rewarding. I was moved and sharpened by this video by a young man charging us to "love people, not evangelism." I encourage you to watch him share his story.

(If you get this on email, click here to watch the video.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What if Our American Society Didn't Have the Christian Influence We Enjoy?

That's a question Jonathan Leeman addressed in this article, "Christianity Packs Its Office and Leaves the Building."  Reading it will make you feel blessed for the influence that Christianity has had and then concerned for how much our culture will lose if the secular movement would really get its way.

Here is a taste to get you interested:
Suppose then that all of my moral principles and I really did pack up our desk, put our files into a box, and let the security guard escort us out of the building? John Lennon said to imagine a world with no religion. Let’s just try imagining a public square with no Christianity.
For starters, I guess I would have to take any concept of innate human equality and dignity with me. You didn’t get that from the Greeks, Romans, or pagan barbarians. You got that from me. I taught you to treat people as ends, not means. It would make me sad to take it back, but you say you don’t want Christian morality, so…
I would have to take back your ideas about inherent rights, too. I’m not saying non-Christian Founders and others haven’t talked about rights for a long time. But lose the concept of a good, personal, and—you won’t like this word—righteous God who endows human creatures with these things called rights; lose the idea of a God whose law makes respecting rights right, and you really have no foundation for them. Rights would come home with me, I’m afraid.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Happened on Each Day of Holy Week?

Justin Taylor and Crossway are helping to teach us what happened on each day of the week of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. They provide a short video featuring faithful New Testament scholars helping us to understand what Jesus was doing each day. The videos are very well done. They will have a new video posted each day at Justin Taylor's blog and at Crossway's blog.

Here are the videos for Palm Sunday and for Monday of Holy Week. (If you get this on email just click here and here for the videos)

Friday, April 11, 2014

J. I. Packer Nailed It.

Knowing ChristianityI have been reading J. I. Packer's Knowing Christianity with the Men's Theological Reading Group at Oakdale the past few months. At the beginning of his chapter on "The Reality of Hell," Packer confronts us with how we typically think about things, and how we in the west cope with life. It is a lot like Jesus said about the foolish builder who built his house upon the sand . . . .

"To any normal person, the thought that people one knows and cares for, not to mention oneself, might face a destiny that could be described as eternal punishment will be profoundly disturbing. It rudely disrupts the sort of peace of mind that we in the Western world cultivate today - the peace of mind that is gained by constantly telling oneself that there is nothing to worry about and everything will work out in the end. But since this complacency is part of our culture and is sniffed like glue in the air we breathe, and does in fact operate as a deadening drug on the mind, it is a kind of knee-jerk reaction with us to resent having it disturbed. From thence comes our tendency to dismiss the doctrine of eternal punishment in all its forms as debased Christianity. We scoff at hell fire as a bad dream, the murky stamping ground of redneck fundamentalists, backwoods preachers and old-fashioned Roman Catholics, and we write off the idea as a hangover from primitive ages now long past." 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Busy Moms Need to Eat, But How?

Rondi Lauterbach, mother of three and a pastor's wife, honestly shares her experiences with us about the great need young mothers have to feed on God's Word even though they have little time to do so. She then gives moms encouragement on how they can still feed their souls the necessary spiritual food they desperately need. Read it here.
Here is her introduction:
No one told me that when I had a baby that not only would I not have time to read my bible, but I wouldn’t have time to eat either. No one told me that.

They didn’t tell me how hungry I’d be either. Feeding two takes a lot of calories. Food never tasted so good, but consuming enough of it takes some work. Having a baby for an alarm clock meant my baby’s breakfast came before mine. I would stare longingly at the refrigerator, fantasizing about three egg omelets and blueberry pancakes while she had her fill. Then just as I was pulling out the fixings, she’d spit up all over me and I was off to change us both. Overwhelmed by the interruption and hunger, I ended up settling for a quick bowl of cereal.

By the time her younger brother and sister were born it was a three ring circus and I was the hungry bear doing a jugging act. Baby in the sling, toddler in melt-down mode, preschooler screaming with full volume, “Where’s my lunch?? MAMA WHERE’S MY LUNCH??” I silently fumed, yeah, and where’s that third hand every mother needs? It’s hard to settle for graham crackers and peanut butter when you’re ready for a Western Bacon Cheeseburger.

Soggy cereal, scraps of toddler sandwiches, cold suppers. It’s meager fare for a nursing mom, but somehow I figured out a system along the way. Why? Because I had to eat. It’s wasn’t optional then, and it’s not now. I may have needed to adjust my expectations, change my schedule, and make some new habits, but eventually I had to find a way to feed myself in that new chapter of my life.
Read the whole thing here

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

John Piper's Lessons From a Hospital Bed.

John Piper recently had a hospital stay. As he is known for, he didn't waste it, but came up with ten lessons from his reflections on being treated in a hospital. To read them click here.

Here are a couple of my favorite lessons.
1. Don’t murmur about delays and inefficiencies in the hospital, when you are getting medical care that surpasses by a hundredfold what is available in 90% of the world.

Instead of focusing on the fact that your nurse isn’t responding, or the man in the next bed is snoring, or the intravenous is twisting, or the ice chips ran out, think about the fact that 150 years ago you would probably be dead. And, if not, you would be groaning in unrelieved pain with no morphine to help; and you would have no clue what’s wrong with you, or whether you were dying or not.

“Do all things without murmuring” (Philippians 2:15). Paul said that the effect of not murmuring would be that we shine as lights in the midst of a crooked world — including the needy world of medicine.

3. Don’t default to the television.

The hospital makes this the easiest thing for you to do. There is a television for every bed. It’s as close as the button by your head. I don’t have a television at home, and the reason for that choice, and for this advice, is not the boogeymen of sex and violence. It’s the more subtle and pervasive dehumanizing banality of most television programming.

When I listened to what was on for the patient next to me, what appalled me was not the sensuality, but the emptiness of it all — the triviality, the silliness, the juvenile hollowness. Grown people were all acting as if life was vaudeville. And all this in contrast to the horrific condition of the man next to me. But even worse — in contrast to the magnificence and greatness and wonder of the human soul and its relation to the Creator of world.

Don’t go there. Give yourself to reading or listening to or thinking about things that ennoble your soul, and put it in touch with the glory that it is, and the Glory it was made for.

“If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1–2).
 Read the whole thing here. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Daily Prayer for My Church and I.

I have been helped by encouragements I have received to be guided by the Scriptures in how I pray for others. If I want to pray according to God's will then praying what God's Word says for my brothers and sisters in Christ is a good way to accomplish that. 

Two of the Bible teachers who have been especially helpful are Don Carson in his book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation. And Ben Patterson in his book, God's Prayer Book. Carson focuses on praying Paul's prayers for the churches he is writing to in his epistles. Patterson's book focuses on praying the Psalms with examples of how to do so. 

We should be praying for one another. But sometimes we just don't know what to pray for others. We may not know much about their current needs or we may not even know them all that well. So we can look to God's Word for praying material to help us to pray effectively for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember the most important need in any believer's life is not so much that they are recovering well physically from a surgery or that they will succeed at a job interview. Rather the most important need in a believer's life is that they are staying faithful to the Lord Jesus and growing in holiness. So God's Word can guide us and help us to pray. 

The Psalms are one of the most helpful books of Scripture to find guidance on prayers as Patterson's book teaches. Recently I have been praying Psalm 119:34 daily for myself and for those here at Oakdale. Here it is:  
"Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart."  

As we read and hear God's Word, the Spirit of God must do a work in our hearts so that we can understand it. So that we can really know what is the heart of the message we need to learn. But the goal of reading and hearing God's Word is not just so that we can know it, and understand it. It isn't so that we can answer all the questions right in a Bible Quiz. Christians don't read the Bible and memorize verses so that they can list all of the ten commandments or name all twelve of Jacob's sons. 

No, we read and listen to God's Word so that we can understand - so as to obey. And not just obey in order to look righteous before others but to obey out of the love and joy that is in our hearts for the Lord Jesus. So I am praying for myself and for my church that the Lord would grant us the gift of understanding His word, so that we can do it, to live out His Word not just outwardly, but with our whole hearts. 

If you are a part of Oakdale, maybe you can join me as I pray this over us each day. If you are not, maybe you can pray this over your own congregation. "Oh, Lord, give us understanding, so that we may keep your law and observe it with all our heart."

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fondly Remembering Sunday Evening Services.

Tim Challies recently wrote an article titled, Why I Love an Evening Service.  As I read it I couldn't help but remember how special the Sunday evening worship services were for me growing up and even into the first half of my adulthood. It caused me to lament the reality that times have changed and we no longer have a weekly Sunday evening service at our church. In its place is our small group ministry which I also love and believe has helped many of our people to grow spiritually, and relationally. Our small group ministry is a great blessing to the people who participate, and most likely more of our folks participate in a small group then would participate in a Sunday evening service. So this is not at all a critique of Oakdale's ministry. This is rather an article of gratitude for something the Lord used in my life to bring much joy and to help me to grow in my relationships with my church family and with The Lord Jesus Christ.

I grew up at Albert City Evangelical Free Church, which had a weekly Sunday evening service. I can remember that the service was more casual then on Sunday mornings. I wasn't required to wear my "church clothes," but still had to look respectable. I remember enjoying singing the hymns much more on Sunday evenings then on Sunday mornings. Probably because on Sunday evenings we tended to stay with the good old classic hymns rather then trying to sing the new praise songs. Sometimes our pastor would ask the congregation for requests of what hymns to sing which was always enjoyable to hear what some of our people's favorite hymns were.

When I got to be in Jr. high and Sr. high school, Sunday evening services became even more special. I was able then to sit with my friends closer to the front of the sanctuary. My friends noticed that my father always seemed to be the first one to stand up when our pastor would ask us to stand to sing a hymn. So we began a contest with my father. We tried to beat him as the first ones standing. We would sit a few rows ahead of my dad, but on the opposite side of the sanctuary, we on the right, and my dad on the left. So when we knew it was about to happen, we'd grab our hymnals, and get on the edge of our seats, ready to rise up when the word was given. We'd each take a quick look back at my dad, and he would act like he had no idea what we were trying to do. Then when the pastor gave the word, we'd shoot up and turn back only to see dad already up and looking at us with a smile and a wink, for he'd beaten us again. On the few occasions that we actually stood up first, we couldn't contain our enthusiasm, usually high-fiving each other and doing a few fist-pumps. On a few occasions our pastor would fool us and act like he was going to say, "please stand to sing," when instead he would start to say it and then start talking about the hymn or the hymn-writer and throw us off. More than once one of us stood too early when that happened. But dad never seemed to be caught off-guard. These kinds of things were allowed during an evening service, but they would not have been acceptable in the morning service.

Quite often after the Sunday evening service my friends and I would go out together to get something to eat. When we were younger we went with our older siblings, (when they'd allow it) when we were finally old enough to drive we'd go ourselves. Of course these were school nights so we really only had time to get a fast-food meal or just an ice-cream and then get back home. But it was always worth it no matter how short our time together was.

Some of my most memorable times serving as the youth ministry director at Bethany Reformed Church were on Sunday evenings. It was in these Sunday evening services that I was given my first preaching opportunities. It was a regular practice to go out to eat with a large group of people who attended the service. At times we would also bring snacks to share after the service and have a great time playing cards and just being together. I was able to build strong disciple-making relationships with students and young adults during these times. It was also during these special times with my church family that my wife Greta and I really got to know each other. When I preached in the service these times of fellowship would almost always lead into a discussion of the sermon and God's Word. These were very precious times for me and for those who participated.

Finally, when I was in seminary I attended First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux Falls. They had and still have a Sunday evening service that I believe was very instrumental in my spiritual growth and preparation for pastoral ministry while I was in seminary. While I was there Pastor Randy Anderson preached verse by verse through 2 Peter 1:1-15 and then began preaching through Revelation verse by verse. It was really at these Sunday evening services that I became convinced of what to focus on in the ministry. That is, you simply pour your heart into understanding the Word of God and then open up the Word of God with your people each week and do the best you can at "re-saying what God says" (as Pastor Randy would describe it). I observed him do that in the morning service, but was convinced that it truly is the primary thing to do while observing the seriousness he took at explaining Scripture and applying it to our present situations in the evening services. What a blessing those Sunday nights were!

So it is with great fondness that I look back on Sunday evening services. I am so grateful to God for how He helped me to grow and provided me with such wonderful times of fellowship and encouragement on Sunday nights.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Something You May Not Have Realized About the Noah Movie.

My wife Greta and I saw the Noah movie this past weekend. I really didn't like it and wished we would have spent our time and money doing something else. But as movies usually do, it has caused me to think quite a bit comparing the Biblical account of Noah with the movie's portrayal. I have been troubled the more I have thought about it.

Well here is not just a review but a new perspective I had not considered but believe has plenty of merit. It is by Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center for Cultural Leadership.

Dr. Mattson makes a good case that the movie was really not based on the Biblical account at all but rather on an ancient Jewish Gnostic account of history called the Zohar which is the sacred text of the Kabbalah gnostic religion. His article is a little long, but very insightful.

If you have watched Noah and were as troubled as I was, then read it. If you have seen Noah and were not troubled at all but thought it was really cool, then definitely read it before you do anything else today.   Find it here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

20 Great Tricks for Moms (and Dads).

Melissa Edgington has a fun blog geared towards the trials and joys of motherhood. Here she has listed 20 of the "oldest tricks in the book of motherhood."

These were my favorites:
3. Uses "you're a big boy" and "you're too little" as it suits the situation.

6. Vacuum stray legos.

8. Answer hard questions with "Ask your daddy."

16. Read one sentence per page. They won't know for years.
Read the rest here.

HT: Challies

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Preparation for Worshiping on the Lord's Day.

I think we could all use a little help and encouragement to prepare well for worship gatherings. Jordan Kauflin shares some wisdom with us on  

Here is his introduction:
A couple weeks ago, my wife and I went out to eat on a date. On a whim, we decided to go see a movie as well. Just like that. No preparation, we just decided and went. The lack of preparation had absolutely no bearing on how much we enjoyed the movie. After all, we just wanted to be entertained.

Unfortunately, we can often approach the Sunday meeting in a similar way.

How do you prepare to gather with your church family? Is your preparation limited to the frenetic collecting of your children, snacks, and diapers? Do you spend your time trying to convince yourself that going is better than sleeping in? Or maybe you don’t even think to prepare, because it’s just another routine that you’ve developed?

How we prepare for our Sunday gatherings is directly related to how much we benefit from our time together.
Kauflin then gives us two common mistakes that we make in our preparation, and follows up with three essential preparations we need to make. I found it convicting and very helpful.  Read the whole thing here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Come on Introverts, Get in the Game.

Personality wise, I have known for a while now that I am what the psychologists categorize as introverted. Being introverted basically means I tend to get more energized either being alone or with just a handful of people that I am comfortable with. Being with many people, especially when I am expected to communicate with many people tends to drain my energy.

A few years ago I read the book, Introverts in the Church. Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture, by Adam McHugh, and I was greatly helped. Here was an author who understood me, for not only was he an introvert, he was also a pastor. One of the great lessons from the book that I took to heart was that being introverted is not an excuse to not developing meaningful and genuine relationships with other people in your congregation. For any relationship to begin initiative must be taken on both sides.

Today I read another very helpful article meant to challenge and encourage introverts. It can also educate those of you who aren't like us so that you might understand us better. I encourage you to read it (click here) but don't think that all introverts are into Star Trek or cats or Facebook, because thankfully we are not.

Here is his main point:
Introverts need community—real community with real, flesh and blood people. We need to be loved, accepted, challenged, and to find our place in the world. Star Trek and Facebook and cats may make us feel like we have something real, but they cannot replace flesh and blood people. Star Trek won’t let you down. It’s safe. Safe and not real. Facebook can provide us a thousand opportunities to feel better than other people and to shine up our pristine image—even an image of being broken, humble, complicated, interesting people. But spouses can’t be blocked, sisters are hard to unfriend. We can’t decline a funeral event with a click. Cats . . . well, let’s be honest and just admit that cats are evil.

Here’s the point, introverts. Maybe you’re angry because I said Star Trek wasn’t real or that Facebook is a minefield of pride and envy, or you’re steaming from having to face the awful truth that cats are of the devil. But hold on. Remember, I’m one of you . . . er, us. The world needs us. We don’t just need flesh and blood community, but flesh and blood community needs us. Seemingly-confident extroverts need us. Type A’s that type a’s on their keyboards with so much power and confidence need us. Muscular, tanned, salt-and-pepper haired businessmen in suits need the dog-hair-sweater-wearing bespectacled old maid who wears a Star Trek communicator because her cats have told her it looks rad. We all need each other. It takes all kinds, as the person quoting cliches once said.
Read the whole thing here. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

World Vision Reverses Their Decision to Hire Open Homo-Sexuals.

After well-deserved pressure from evangelical leaders and churches, World Vision humbly and decisively reversed their decision to hire employees who claimed to be Christian yet lived in open homo-sexual relationships. This was wise on their part, but unfortunately they may have given us a glimpse of what they really believed behind closed-doors.

See the story here.

The Lord Will Provide.

I am currently studying the life of John Newton. He will be the subject of my annual biographical sketch of a Christian that has gone before us. I share these with my congregation each memorial day weekend as a way of remembering our leaders and imitating their faith (Hebrews 13:7). Newton's life has always fascinated me. I have been blessed by seeing God's transforming grace in it. I have also been greatly encouraged by his hymns. Yes, Amazing Grace is his most well-known but not even close to being his best.

One Newton hymn that seems to encourage my faith every time I hear it or sing it is "The Lord Will Provide."

Tho' troubles assail and dangers affright
Tho' friends should all fail and foes all unite;
Yet one thing secures us, whatever betide
The Scripture assures us, The LORD will provide.

The birds without barn or storehouse are fed,
From them let us learn to trust for our bread:
His saints what is fitting, Shall ne'er be deny'd,
So long as its written, The LORD will provide.

We may, like the ships, by tempests be tossed
On perilous deeps, But cannot be lost:
Tho' Satan enrages the wind and the tide,
The promise engages, The LORD will provide.

His call we obey like Abra'm of old
Not knowing our way, but faith makes us bold;
For tho' we are strangers we have a good Guide,
And trust in all dangers, The LORD will provide.

When Satan appears to stop up our path,
And fills us with fears, we triumph by faith;
He cannot take from us, tho' oft he has tried,
This heart-cheering promise, The LORD will provide.

He tells us we're weak, our hope is in vain,
The good that we seek we ne'er shall obtain;
But when such suggestions our spirits have ply'd,
This answers all questions, The LORD will provide.

No strength of our own, or goodness we claim,
Yet since we have known The Savior's great name;
In this our strong tower for safety we hide,
The LORD is our power, The LORD will provide.

When life sinks apace and death is in view,
This word of His grace shall comfort us thro':
No fearing or doubting with Christ on our side,
We hope to die shouting, The LORD will provide.