Friday, July 25, 2014

Futball, VBS, and Superman.

Esther practicing for her senior pictures in 11 years.

Not sure why Packer thought he needed to lift up his shirt, but I guess he was just taking after his sister who did this with her dress a few years back.

Now we're singing.

I caught this picture of Super Luther just as he was taking off to fly (notice his feet).

Super Luther isn't too crazy about pictures, you know he would like to keep his identity a secret.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Watermelon Days, Stanhope, IA 2014.

Last Saturday it was Watermelon Days at Stanhope, Iowa, where Greta's folks live. What a fun, and beautiful day!

All the watermelon you can eat for free!

The boys love their watermelon, but Esther has taken more after me. I really don't care for it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Some Questions and Answers.

Where did we come from? 
             God’s response: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

Why are we here? What is the purpose of our lives? 
             God’s response: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ . . . The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 1:28; 2:15) “I created (you) for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:7)  “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

But why are we so messed up? What is wrong with us?
God’s response: “’Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” (Genesis 3:11-13)  “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you.” (Isaiah 59:2)  “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)

Do we have any hope? Can we be restored?
God’s response: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)   “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:8-9)   “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

(This article was originally published in the Oakdale Messenger, our church's newsletter, all Scripture quotations from the ESV)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: Bringing The Gospel Home.

Randy Newman is an evangelist and writer with a ton of experience in counseling college students on how to begin to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with their families. He has been on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) since 1980. Every year young people have come to the college campus where he serves from non-Christian or nominal Christian homes. Students even come from families who are devout in a religion which isn't Christianity (Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, etc). Some of these students then are born again to faith in Jesus Christ under the ministry of Campus Crusade. But with their transformed life comes many great difficulties, one of which is how to share their new faith with their unbelieving family, who may not be too happy to listen to them.

Yet whenever Randy Newman gives counsel to these students in that situation, he does so from personal experience. For much like the students he ministers too, Randy also came to faith in Christ while in college having been born and raised in a committed Jewish family. His family was not very pleased with his new lifestyle when he shared it with them. It took years for his family to really take him seriously. Randy struggled for years to share the gospel with his family members, but by God's grace his mother and his brother were also transformed by the gospel but it took years for both of them.

Randy’s excellent book, Bringing the Gospel Home – Witnessing to Family Members,Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well, is filled with helpful counsel and stories of helping his students to bring the gospel home. He gives many examples from his own personal experience of bringing the gospel home to his family as well as the stories of his students. He was very honest and very earnest with the reality of how difficult it can be. But he also gives us a lot of hope in revealing the power of the gospel for the salvation of all who believe, even those who know us best.

There are seven chapters which focus on a different aspect of the challenge of sharing the gospel with our families. They are each summed up in one word, Family, Grace, Truth, Love, Humility, Time, and Eternity. These chapter titles are much different than the ones suggested to him by a close friend whom he had told about the book when he first started writing it. His friend’s suggestions for a book on witnessing to family were: Chapter 1: Don’t Do it!,
Chapter 2: Don’t Do it!,
Chapter 3: Did You Think I Was Kidding?,
Chapter 4: Pray for Somebody Else to Do It,
Chapter 5: Review Chapters 1, 2, and 3.  (p. 13)

So Newman well knows who difficult of a practice talking with your family about your faith can be and how intimidating it can be for many Christians. Maybe some of you have also had similar fears, or personal experiences of your attempts to share your faith which have not gone well.

What I appreciated most about this book was not just Newman’s realistic honesty about the difficulty of sharing the gospel with family members, but also the wisdom that he has which is of course influenced by the gospel from God’s Word. He really understands the gospel well, and he really understands people well. He believes in the Sovereign God of the Bible which takes all of the pressure off of us in the process of evangelism. We are called to love our family members, and faithfully live out the gospel and teach them the gospel. But it is God who gives life and transforms hearts. So we must trust Him, and be faithful to how He has called us to live as His people before our family.

Here is an example of both Newman’s wisdom and understanding of God’s Word. In the chapter on Humility he writes this, “Despite its rarity, we must pursue and embody humility, for it shines beautifully in a world hungering for it. . . . Humility attracts people to the gospel, partly because of its refreshing rarity but mostly because it reflects the essence of Christianity. It was humility that motivated Jesus to leave heaven and it is that same trait we are called to imitate” (p. 137)

Oh, how we need humility when we are seeking to help our family members know the gospel. Aren’t we so tempted to enforce our will on our family members? Or come across like we know much better than our sister or brother? Some of us really enjoy telling our family members what to do, and so if we were to talk about the gospel with them, they would probably receive it as just another one of our attempts to seek to control their lives. That is why I so greatly appreciated what he had to say about humility and how he approached his instruction throughout the book.

Here is an example of how we can apply our need for humility in sharing the gospel. He writes, “Sometimes humility is framed as a question. . . . Sometimes the humble question is posed as a request for permission. “Would you ever be up for discussing spiritual things?” sounds less threatening than, “If you were to die tonight, how sure are you that you’d go to heaven?” A permission question accomplishes two things. It disarms the hearer of normal resistance because the question implies you don’t want to talk about religion right now. It also opens the person up to your presentation at some later date because they give you permission. . . . The request for permission expresses respect for their time and displays humility” (p. 143-144).

I would recommend Bringing the Gospel Home to anyone who would like some encouragement and help with sharing the gospel, not just with their family members, but with anyone. I found it very good and very helpful. Newman has also written a book entitled, Questioning Evangelism – Engaging People’sHearts the Way Jesus Did, that also looks like another strong book on the subject. Brothers and sisters, we can use all the help we can get with evangelism, and that is exactly what reading one of these books will give you.

Find it here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How Sin Makes Progress in Your Heart.

From Kevin DeYoung:
Sin nibbles at our soul in small steps.

Eight steps, to be precise, according to John Witherspoon in his sermon on Hebrews 3:13 entitled “The Deceitfulness of Sin”:
1. Men enter and initiate themselves in a vicious practice by small sins.

2. Having once begun in the ways of sin, he ventures upon something great and more daring; his courage grows with his experience; and he gives himself more liberty to walk in the ways of his own heart, and the sight of his own eyes.

3. Open sins soon throw a man into the hands of ungodly companions.

4. In the next stage, the sinner begins to feel the force of habit and inveterate custom.

5. The next stage in a sinner’s course is to lose the sense of shame; and sin openly and boldly.

6. Another stage in the sinner’s progress is to harden himself so far, as to sin without remorse of conscience.

7. Improved sinners often come to boast and glory of their wickedness. It is something to be above shame; but it is more still to glory in wickedness and esteem it honorable.

8. Not to be content with being wicked themselves, but to use all their art and influence to make others so too. This is to be zealous in sinning, and industriously to promote the interest of the infernal cause. How often do we find those who have no fear of God before their own eyes, use their utmost endeavors to extinguish it before others, to laugh down qualms of their consciences, and break any reluctance they may seem to have at running to same excess of riot with themselves? (Works, 2:61-69)
Read the whole thing here

Friday, July 18, 2014

Remembering Flight 232.

Tomorrow, July 19, will be the 25th anniversary of the crash landing of Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa. If you grew up in Siouxland as I did, then you remember this day very well. I was 14 years old when it happened, and I remember everybody in my social circle talking about it and watching news reports about it for weeks.

I am excited to read a new book about that fateful day, Flight 232. A Story of Disaster and Survival. by Laurence Gonzales. I just received my copy this week. I have read a couple of reviews about it which have only increased my anticipation to read it. Here are two reviews, this one from the Washington Post, and this one from a Sioux City Journal reporter who was also a witness to the disaster. You can find the book here.

Two of the lessons I learned as a 14 year-old boy and am often reminded of when this sad event is brought to my mind are these: Our lives are in God's hands. Therefore it is extremely wise to submit ourselves to Him and His Word for we never know when our last day will be. And the best response to a crisis is to join together with your neighbors to do all that you can to help those in great need. 112 people lost their lives in the crash, yet miraculously 184 survived.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Shocking Experiment.

From John Stonestreet at Breakpoint:
 In an experiment led by social psychologist Timothy Wilson at the University of Virginia, 409 undergrads were asked to sit alone without mobile devices, books, or any other kind of entertainment for 15 minutes. 
 That’s it. 15 minutes.

Nearly half found this unpleasant. Allowed to repeat the experiment in the comfort of their own homes, “nearly one-third of the study subjects later admitted to cheating.”

And now comes the bizarre part: “In the next experiment, participants were given a small electric shock—akin to a jolt of static electricity—that was so unpleasant that three-quarters of them said they would be willing to pay not to experience the shock again.”

But when participants sat in the room “alone with their thoughts, 67% of male participants and 25% of female subjects were so eager to find something to do that they shocked themselves voluntarily.”

 What are we to make of this strange story? Well, in the age of social media and multitasking, even our relaxation has to be busy. I mean, many of us seem hardly aware that we’ve fallen into bad habits. We remind each other to log off Facebook, quit playing electronic games, and try looking up from the iPhone once in a while. (But sometimes we even use our Facebook statuses to remind each other to log off Facebook.)

But heaven forbid we spend time alone at all with our own thoughts, without someone else present at least on the other side of a screen. A psychologist at Columbia University, Malia Mason, observes, “We lack a comfort in just being alone with our thoughts. . . .We’re constantly looking to the external world for some sort of entertainment.”
Read (or listen to) the whole thing here

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

John Piper Does Not Aspire to Be a "Regular Guy."

I was blessed by this article from John Piper. I also think it relates well with what I and Oakdale have been learning from 1 Peter. We are "strangers and exiles" within the world we live in if we are faithful, New Testament believers.

Here is part of his plea:
When my soul is hungry for deep help from God; when I am blank before the word of God, and ache for someone to show me the greatness and glory of Christ; when I feel a longing for heaven, and desire a soul-brother who shares this passion; when I am full of fresh fruit from God’s word, and yearn for a fellow lover of Scripture, I do not look for a “regular guy.”

And since that’s not what my soul longs for, it’s not what I long to be. . . . .
Yes, I know. It is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. My problem is: I’ve never met one of those people. And I suspect, if I met one, the problem would not be that his mind is full of the glories of heaven, but that his mind is empty and his mouth is full of platitudes.

I suspect that for every professing believer who is useless in this world because of other-worldliness, there are a hundred who are useless because of this-worldliness.

And yes, I know that our aim is not to be weird. We don’t need more weird people in our lives. We are supposed to let our light shine before others that they may give glory to our Father. But in my experience shining with supernatural, divine light from another world is the very essence of non-regular.
Read the whole thing here

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

One Huge Reason Why We Need the Church.

I greatly appreciated this post by Tim Challies, quoting from a book by Scott Blackwell. The gentlemen that he writes about named Steve reminds me so much of a man named Jerry who had cerebral-palsy who was a member of a church I used to serve in. Someday I will write about the influence and encouragement he was to me.
But here is a bit of why I was helped by what Blackwell wrote:
Personally, I think it is possible that this makes Steve the most important person in our church. Once, during a rare moment of melancholy, he asked me why I thought God had caused him to live out his life in a chair. I thought for a long time before I said I didn’t know for certain, but that maybe his disability and his chair were meant for our teaching, blessing and benefit. I suggested that, possibly, it was God’s intention that through Steve our church might learn great lessons about patience, love, endurance, joy, compassion, hope and faith. I said to him (and I believe it is true) that he is perhaps our most dynamic and effective evangelist and pastoral worker. His look of surprise and shock actually made me laugh out loud. It had never occurred to him that this was what he was for us. He was just Steve.

Through my friend Steve, God has worked wonderful deeds of spiritual growth and maturity in our church.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Song to Encourage Your Faith in Troubled Times.

I am a late-comer to the music of JJ Heller, yet late or early I am happy to have received her music. Honest, hopeful lyrics that point me to God and the redemption He has given in Christ Jesus. Her lyrics proclaim gospel truths and minister to hurting hearts. Her songs have brought tears to my eyes, and have filled me with momentary joy. Check out her music here.

Recently I have been particularly blessed by her song, "Your Hands." It has been out a few years, but the message is centuries old having taken it from the Psalms, the prophet Isaiah and the New Testament. The video is of her singing it live in a radio studio. (click here to see the video email people) And the lyrics to the song are below for your further understanding. . .

I have unanswered prayers
I have trouble I wish wasn't there
And I have asked a thousand ways
That you would take my pain away
You would take my pain away

 I am trying to understand
How to walk this weary land
Make straight the paths that crooked lie
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine
Oh Lord, before these feet of mine

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking I never leave your hands

When you walked upon the earth
You healed the broken, lost and hurt
I know you hate to see me cry
One day you will set all things right
Yeah, one day you will set all things right

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking I never leave your hands

Your hands that shaped the world
Are holding me They hold me still
Your hands that shaped the world
Are holding me They hold me still

When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking I never leave you
When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking I never leave
I never leave your hands
- "Your Hands" by JJ Heller

Friday, July 11, 2014

We are Strangers and Aliens.

My studies of 1 Peter have been focused on chapter 2, verses 9-12 this week as I prepare to preach on Sunday for Oakdale. Once again, I am excited and deeply challenged by what God's Word is saying through the Apostle Peter here in these brief verses. In particular, I have been struck deeply by the reality that as followers of Jesus Christ we are "sojourners and exiles" (ESV) or "aliens and strangers" (NASB) in verse 11.

I used to watch a lot of TV. Growing up, in college, and then in the years after getting out of college. TV shows were just a regular part of my life. Some of my favorite shows during each of those chapters of my life were The A-Team and Dukes of Hazard (elementary school) Cheers and Saturday Night Live (in High School) The Simpsons and The X Files (in college) and then Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond (in my 20's). Then I went to seminary and decided that TV would be too much of a distraction for me so I gave my TV to a friend. So you can say I stopped cold-turkey. Then when Greta and I were married all we had was an old, small, barely operational TV set that Greta had. So we really didn't watch it much, and even though we have a more modern TV in our home now, still there are often days that go by that it never gets turned on.

But once in a while I will turn it on, usually to watch a sporting event. When I do I am always a bit stunned and saddened when current TV shows are promoted. The difference between the worldview of the show's writers and mine is world's apart. The things that I find entertaining are vastly different then what the networks are putting out as entertainment. The level of what I think to be appropriate viewing even for an adult man, and what the networks are putting on the screens which are on full display in millions of homes with children in them is stunningly different. Probably more than anything else, I really feel like I am a stranger and an alien within this society, that I was born and raised in, whenever I watch a bit of network TV. But yet, the more that I think back to my younger days, the more I also realize that although those shows I enjoyed watching may have been a little tamer than what is on prime time today, they are still a long ways away from what a faithful disciple of Christ should value and love.

So that's where this sense of being a resident alien and a stranger as a Christian in America hits home for me. My values are considered old-fashioned and out of touch. My morals are laughed at and mocked by the majority of the culture. My beliefs are considered narrow-minded, foolish, and even dangerous. And God's Word tells us that we are not to be surprised about that at all. For although we may live here, and raise our families here, this place is not our home. We are not to buy in to the values of this rebellious world. We are instead to live like resident aliens, who are citizens of another country, another kingdom. And so we will be looked on with some suspicion. We will be the butt of jokes and considered dangerous by some. But all of the attention given to us because of our strangeness will present us with a tremendous opportunity.

As Peter urges the church, we must, "abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage against your soul," and to live good and honorable lives so that even unbelievers have to speak of our good deeds and glorify God as being the only One who could have made us into the self-sacrificial people that we are called to be. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Far too many of us are really bothered that the culture looks down on us, or thinks we are silly and foolish for following Christ. Please brothers and sisters, don't feel threatened by this sentiment. It must be the case for we really are not like them if we are born-again believers who are now being led by and have a heart transformed by God the Holy Spirit. We are aliens and strangers in their eyes, but the Kingdom that we belong to is a Kingdom that will be far more glorious and joyful then any fleeting glory and joy we can experience following the ways of this world. If you don't sense this when you are watching TV, then you may not really be an alien to this culture, but rather you have been much more shaped by its values and customs than you have by the values and customs of Heaven.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Kind of Church Member Are You?

In one of my older books that I bought at a used book sale, I found a church bulletin from First Reformed Church in Sioux Falls, SD for the Sunday Worship service on March 4, 1962. On the back of this bulletin there was a brief exhortation active church membership with the title, "What Kind of Member Are You?" It goes like this. . . . .

What Kind of Church Member Are You? 
- A lot of members are like wheelbarrows - - Not good unless pushed.
- Some are like canoes - - Need to be paddled.
- Some are like kites - - If a string isn't kept on them, they'll fly away.
- Some are like kittens - - They are more contented when petted.
- Some are like footballs - - You can't tell which way they'll bounce next.
- Some are like balloons - - Full of wind and ready to blow up.
- Some are like trailers - - They have to be pulled.
- Some are like lights - - They keep going on and off.

Many - Thank God - Are like the North Star - - There when you need them, dependable, ever loyal and a guide for all people.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer Pictures.

Luther and Packer doing their favorite outdoor activity: digging.

Still playing nicely together.

Uncle Chad giving Luther a ride in the wagon. He is still a kid at heart. That is cousin Max there with the big smile, and cousins Maddy and Mallory in the background.

Esther has really grown up this summer.

Packer and Luther had a ball over at their friends Max and Cole's house. Max let them take a spin in his toy John Deere Gator.

Luther was the only child at home for a couple of days. Here he is enjoying playing with toys without his brother taking them from him.

You can tell who the most photogenic child currently is.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Patience is Required for Bible Study.

Here is a helpful article from Jen Wilken at the Desiring God Blog:
So it isn’t surprising that the desire for instant gratification can even creep into our study of the Bible. We approach our “time in the Word” like the drive-through at McDonald’s: “I’ve only got a few minutes. Give me something quick and easy to fill me up.”

But sound Bible study is rooted in a celebration of delayed gratification. Gaining Bible literacy requires allowing our study to have a cumulative effect — across weeks, months, years — so that the interrelation of one part of Scripture to another reveals itself slowly and gracefully, like a dust cloth slipping inch by inch from the face of a masterpiece.

God doesn’t want his word to be neatly packaged into three-hundred-and-sixty-five-day increments. He does not want it to be reduced to truisms and action points. He wants it to introduce dissonance into your thinking, to stretch your understanding. He wants it to reveal a mosaic of his majesty one passage at a time, one day at a time, across a lifetime. By all means, bring eagerness to your study time. Yes, bring hunger. But certainly bring patience — come ready to study for the long term.
Read the whole thing here

Monday, July 7, 2014

Fireworks Filmed From the Inside.

My family and I enjoyed watching the fireworks show in Marcus, IA the other night. But it was not quite as impressive as this show. Here is a video of fireworks filmed with a drone flying through them. It is spectacular. (click here to see the video if you get on email)