Friday, September 19, 2014

Treasures of Everlasting Might In Our Jehovah Dwell.

Earlier this year I shared a hymn by John Newton each Friday for a few weeks. Great hymns are just great poems that are focused on giving praise to God and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ which are then put to music. Great Gospel-declaring, God-glorifying hymns bring immense joy and strength to my soul as I read, sing and listen to them. If you find they don't do much for you, then it's probably because you just have not encountered some of the best ones.

Isaac Watts was a pastor and hymn-writer of the late 1600's and early 1700's in England. He is quite
well-known for his hymns in the western world today, but back in his days he was probably more well-known as a logician. He was the author of a very popular textbook on Logic. Along with John Newton, Watts is one of my favorite hymn writers.

Most of Watts' hymns are taken right out of the Scriptures and that is definitely the case with the one below. It is based primarily on Isaiah 27-30, along with a clear reference to Isaiah 40 at the end.

1) Whence do our mournful thoughts arise?  And where's our courage fled?
Have restless sin and raging hell   Struck all our comforts dead?

2) Have we forgot th' almighty name   That form'd the earth and sea?
And can an all-creating arm   Grow weary or decay?

3) Treasures of everlasting might   In our Jehovah dwell:
He gives the conquest to the weak   And treads their foes to hell.

4) Mere mortal power shall fade and die,   And youthful vigour cease;
But we that wait upon the Lord   Shall feel our strength increase.

5) The saints shall mount on eagles' wings,  And taste the promis'd bliss,
Till their unwearied feet arrive  Where perfect pleasure is.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Seed Grows, I Know Not How.

One of the most encouraging paragraphs in all of Scripture for preachers is Mark 4:26-29 (read it here). The image is a similar one to the parable of the sower (also known as the parable of the soils) which Mark records Jesus teaching at the beginning of Mark 4. In Mark 4:26-29 we again have a sower, or a farmer scattering seed on the ground, which is a description of what preachers do whenever they preach. They are scattering the Word of God out upon the soils of the hearts of the hearers. Sometimes the seed takes root and grows, other times temptations and persecutions and the cares of this world can choke out the sprout that came up.

In Mark 4:26-29, we are given the perspective of the sower after he has scattered the seed on the soil. Jesus says that after he has finished scattering the seed, "He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how." That is it. Once the sower has completed scattering the seed which is proclaiming the Word of God to those who are there to listen, his work is essentially completed. For "He sleeps." But the seed of the Word that has fallen on the hearts of his listeners now sprout and grow, basically on their own as vs. 28 explains. The sower or the preacher, "knows not how" it grows, but it does.

Preachers, at least the faithful ones, spend hours preparing sermons each week. Then on the Lord's Day they pour out their hearts before their congregations. All of their study time, all of their preparation, all of their writing comes flowing out of them, like seeds being scattered all over the room. And then the preacher goes home and sleeps. What did he accomplish with all that hard work? Was anything of any good accomplished? Was his ministry effective? The answer is he really doesn't know. But he will get up the next morning and begin the process over again, because he trusts the Word of His Lord. "The seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how."

Growth is always a slow process, which is described in vs. 28, "The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear." It takes time to go through those stages. It does not happen over night. We can't stare at wheat and actually see the progress happening, we just simply trust it is and over time, by God's grace it will become evident that growth is taking place. Jesus wants us to know that that is how it is with the ministry of the Word as well. Faith takes time to grow and mature. We usually have no idea what is going on in the hearts of the people who hear us preach. But if we are blessed to remain in a place for an extended period of time, we will also be blessed to see the fruit. The growth of at least some of the people will be evident. We will not know how they have grown, but they have as they listened to the Word of God faithfully proclaimed week after week. For "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reflections From This Past Lord's Day at Oakdale.

We had a special speaker come and preach God's Word this past Lord's Day at Oakdale Evangelical Free Church. Terry Baxter is the co-founder and executive director of Global Compassion Network. He has served as a pastor, and an evangelist, and is now also running for the Iowa State House of Representatives in district 8.

Terry's message was titled, "Preparing His Bride for His Soon Return."  He spoke a little from Ephesians 5:25-27, then mostly from 2 Chronicles 7:11-14. Terry's main theme from these texts were that Christ is and will "present His church to Himself in splendor, without spot of wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27). Christ will accomplish this through sending revival to His church, and revival will come soon since His return will be soon. Terry then revealed the seven key principles of revival from God's Word found in 2 Chronicles 7:11-14.

There were two main truths that stood out to me in the message. The ironic thing is that they were nothing new. Nothing out of the ordinary. They are just basic truths and what should be common practices for disciples of Christ and churches everywhere. They were the fact that in order for a church to see renewal and revival they must be faithfully preaching the Word of God and praying for God's work of transformation to come to their lives and the lives of those around them.

That is it. The Word of God and Prayer. How often do we hear this? How many times have you heard sermons on the importance of the Word of God and Prayer in the Christian's life and in the life of a congregation, and yet we struggle to actually read God's Word consistently, and please don't ask us how often we pray!

One thing I have heard so often from people who are supposed to be disciples of Christ is how we need to "keep things fresh" on Sunday mornings. You know, maybe do something a little different then just preaching sermons and praying. Like what will make all the difference in the life of our church is if we do something creative every other week that's never been done before. Some would rather hear people share about their lives then to hear what God would have to say to us in His Word. Yet, true, Biblical revival will never come to a church that ignores His Word and believes they are too busy being creative to take time to pray. God's people will never be fed unless its shepherds are committed to providing meals filled with the meat of God's Word with the goal of proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

I was challenged and encouraged to think about revival and to believe that God can do it and will do it. May we long for Him, and faithfully listen to His Word and cry out to Him in prayer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Barn Razing.

Our church decided it was time to tear down the old barn that stood behind our house (the parsonage). This barn used to house the Oakdale pastor's horse, milking cow, and chickens.
Here is a look at the back side. I believe the little 2 x 8 ft. addition that is sticking out was put in so the pastor could store his car in the barn back in the 50's. 

We used the barn to provide shelter for our dog Scout, until we had to move her to my sister's place. It also was used to store the church's lawn mower for the past several years.
Here is our friend Vernon moving his excavator off the trailer to tear it down.

Packer and Luther were very excited to watch this from the window. Unfortunately, we were not able to stay to watch the barn razing as we had family plans for the day.
Our backyard sure looks different now. We can see the trees along the river behind our house. I discovered yesterday morning that wild turkeys like to roost there.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ten Ways to Excercise Christlike Headship for Husbands.

From Owen Strachan at CBMW:

10. Christlike male headship means that you see the spiritual nourishment of your wife as your primary duty (Eph. 5:28-30). This doesn’t happen by accident; it happens as, on a regular basis, you open the Bible with her, pray with her, and talk about God with her. You don’t need to be a global theologian to read the Bible and pray the Bible, right?

9. Christlike male headship means that you love just one wife. Like Jesus, who loved only his bride, you have eyes for no one else. You save up your affection for her. You live on a continual mission to treasure her and to make her feel treasured.

8. Christlike male headship means that you train yourself to know the Lord in a vibrant way. You recognize that your family will only flourish under your leadership when you are flourishing in Christ. This means being in the Word regularly and praying regularly and being a faithful church member. You don’t have to be a spiritual all-star, future biographers poring over your Moleskins for clues into your thinking. You do need to be faithful to your Savior by the Spirit’s awesome power (Romans 6, 8).

7. Christlike male headship means on date night/vacations, you think first, “What would she like to do?” not, “What would I like to do?” If you’re on vacation or a date, you’re first trying to find activities she would enjoy. With apologies to 1990s-era bracelets, I try to ask myself, WWBL—what would Bethany like? For you, this may mean that you forgo a war museum, a basketball or baseball game, or a superhero movie. Then, not only do you find something she would like to do, but you enter into it fully. You’re present with her. She will love you for it.

6. Christlike male headship means that at dinner, after a long day at work, you hold the baby so your wife, frazzled from kids and home, can eat first. Your food is getting cold; your stomach is growling. You are hungry, and mannishly so. But you hold your child so that the woman who sacrificially gives 100% of her energy each day to care for your children can, at the very least, eat a hot meal. You can’t make childraising easy; it’s always challenging. You can, however, make it more pleasurable.
Read the whole article (and the top 5 exercises) here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Brothers, Are You Making an Idol of Football?

Pastor Kevin DeYoung has another insightful and very helpful article for each of us guys who enjoy our football. Read it here.

Here is my favorite paragraph:
Americans love football like the rest of the world loves. . . .football. Except in our football the action takes place six seconds at a time and the players pretend they are NOT hurt.

Then here are his three questions to help diagnose possible football idolatry:
1. Is ministry and worship on the Lord's Day compromised by my allegiance to football on Saturday and Sunday?
2.  Are my emotions all out of whack?
3. Can my conversation go deeper than football?
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Some Help to Protect Yourself Online.

Tim Challies has done us a favor by sharing these 5 things to protect ourselves from online bandits who want to hack into our personal accounts. Read the whole thing here for it all to make sense, but here are his 5 things:

1) Use Good Passwords.

2) Use Unique Passwords.

3) Use Two-Factor Authentication.

4) Use a Password Manager.

5) Schedule an Audit. 

Read the explanations here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Do You Feel "Disconnected" At Your Church?

Read this from Erik Raymond:
It is a common phrase spoken by Christians and wrestled with by pastors, “I don’t feel connected at church.” The pastoral burden is for all Christians to be thriving in and through the ministry. When we hear something like this we immediately go into “fix-it” mode. Often times we even attempt to construct some structure around the person to help them feel connected.

But what if this didn’t help anyone? What if the problem wasn’t the ministry but the individual? What if the disconnection we feel is actually the consequence of selfishness?*

Catering to selfishness will never cure selfishness, it only fortifies it.

I find it fascinating that the church, on every level, as she applies the gospel, is self-denying. In fact, the lion’s share of the NT imperatives (commands) are calling us away from serving ourselves by serving others (i.e. Ephesians 4-6).

What follows is a list, some help for those who are aiming to feel connected at church.
Read the whole thing here. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

It's Got to Be More Than Just a Slogan.

Read Jared Wilson's truth-filled article on when we think a little too much of ourselves as a church.

Here is a good taste of it:
See, nobody ever said, “We changed our music style and revival broke out.”

Nobody ever said, “We moved from Sunday School classes to small groups and the glory of God came down.”

Nobody ever said, “You would not believe the repenting unto holiness that happened when our pastor started preaching shorter sermons.”  (I’m just sayin’.)

No, all those things and more can be good things. Done for the right reasons, those can be very good moves to make, but the glory of God is best heard in the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where the glory-aimed church is going to camp out. . . 

Over and over again, from Old Testament through New, we learn the foundational truth echoed by the Westminster divines, that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We make realized the 5th of the Reformational solas: Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone be the glory.”

A gospel-centered church makes that not just a spiritual slogan but her spiritual blood. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the nicest church in town. That’d be nice. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the most popular church in town. That’d be cool. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the smartest church in town. That’d be okay.

No, a gospel-centered church doesn’t aim to be the anything-est church in town because it’s not comparing itself to other churches, but to the holiness of God, which will shrink the church down to size in its own estimation and make her hunger for the holiness that only comes from the riches of Christ in the gospel. A gospel-centered church aims to be a gospel-proclaiming church in town. Because that would be glorious.

A gospel-centered church is okay with its own decreasing — in reputation, in acclaim, in legacy, even in (gasp) numbers, but especially in self-regard — so long as it serves the increasing of the sense of the glory of God.
Read the whole thing here. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Wise Words for College Students (and All Believers) About Alcohol.

Kevin DeYoung with some needed counsel for college students, especially freshman, on whether or not to go to that drinking party.

1. Know what you’re up against. Like a good AA course, the first step is admitting we have a problem. Binge drinking is so bad that when researches tried using Breathalyzers at parties and bars it only encouraged students to drink more. No matter how many bad consequences are put in front of students–drunk driving, addictions, unwanted sexual intercourse, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, decreased performance in school–they don’t offset the two perceived benefits of drinking: it’s liberating and a good excuse.

Students thinking of alcohol as “liquid courage.” It makes them more fun, more adventurous, less tied to inhibitions. On the latter, drinking is seen as a convenient way of avoiding personal responsibility. The sober girl who hooks up with a complete stranger might be considered a slut. But if she’s drunk, then it’s not really a mark on her character; she just had a few too many. Likewise, many students feel justified if they miss class or perform poorly because of a hangover. No matter what people tell them about the possible dangers of drinking, getting drunk for many college students, is the best way to have fun. And whatever negative consequences may come, these are thought to reflect on the alcohol not on the individual.

Take almost any college in the country, especially the big state schools, and I can just about guarantee that the biggest obstacle to Christian discipleship is not Richard Dawkins or Bart Ehrman or all the heady objections to Christianity that our apologetics are meant to counter. We need apologetics. I’m 100% for taking every thought captive to Christ. But for most 17-22 year-olds the most common temptations to sin are alcohol and sex. Even when there are intellectual objections to Christianity, these are often just cover for a debauched lifestyle. Tens of thousands of college students will walk away from the church this year, or never give it a chance, because their main goal each week is to get smashed and hook up. Rare is the campus ministry that needs to talk about Derrida more than drunkenness.
Click here to read the whole thing, he has 4 more main points. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

God’s Word for The Persecuted and the Persecutors.

     ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Boko Haram in Nigeria and West Africa.  Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen still imprisoned in Iran for sharing his Christian faith. I could go on. Violent persecution against the Christian church is quite active and seemingly unstoppable in various parts of the world. The reports are incredibly heart-breaking and sad. We must pray and seek the Lord’s help for our fellow Christians and for justice to be done to their attackers. But we must also look to God’s Word for help in understanding what is going on, and to prepare ourselves for the day when we will be forced to suffer for our faith as well.
     In our study of 1 Peter, we have seen that God has a Word for His people who are being persecuted, and He has a clear Word for those who do the persecuting as well.
     In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter writes, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  The first commands here is for believers to “prepare” their “minds for action.”  They are to prepare themselves to be able to think the right way about the experiences they must live through in their lives most directly, suffering for their faith which is a main theme of the letter. When they encounter opposition for their faith, they must be able to respond to it in the right and the best way, that is by faith and faithfulness. Faith would be right belief, and faithfulness would be rightly living out your right belief. That is the point of the second command, “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”   Believing that in the end, God will make all things right. That justice will be fully and finally carried out, and that God’s people will receive their inheritance of eternal life in close personal relationship with God Himself, they will be able to endure with faith whatever their enemies throw at them in this life.
     But God has a Word for the persecutors as well. Words that they would do well to take seriously. 1 Peter 4:5 refers to those who cause suffering for Christians: “but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”  The day is coming when every persecutor, every murderer, every rapist will face Almighty God in judgment. And they will give account to Him. They will face the One who lived, died, and rose again so that His people, the very ones whom they hated and abused in this life, could be with Him forever. Their day is coming. For their sakes may they humble themselves, repent and bow before the King now, rather than face the full brunt of His Wrath then. Let us pray for them as well as for our persecuted brethren.  

(This article first appeared in our church's monthly newsletter for Sept. 2014)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Treadmill Dancing: This is Cool.

Enjoy this one today. I think it is hilarious that nobody seems to be paying any attention to him whatsoever. City people. . . .  (click here to see the video if you get this on email)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Labor Day Encouragement From John Piper.

I was blessed by John Piper's post about our fear that we may be laboring for nothing.

Here are a few quotes:

All of us can become oppressed that our work is of no value. Any one of us can be crushed by the feeling that others do not approve of how we do our work. Who has never felt the pang that he has labored in vain and spent his strength for nothing? When discouragement comes in this form, we need a special weapon to fight the fight of faith.

“The Lord measures the faithfulness of our labor, not our success. I look always to the Lord and not to man.”

As you ponder your life’s labor on this Labor Day, don’t be undone by the thought that you have labored in vain. If you must, say with Isaiah, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” But then, with great boldness, in defiance of all of Satan’s attacks, speak the rest of the verse: “yet surely my right is with the LORD and my recompense with my God” (Isaiah 49:4).

Then resolve with faith in God’s power (2 Thessalonians 1:11) to live and labor for the rest of your life in the hope that faithful, Christ-dependent labor is pleasing to the Lord. “Our recompense is measured not according to ‘our success’ but ‘our labor.’”

Read the whole thing here. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Moments of Peace.

With our children being ages 7, 4, and 2 sometimes living at peace within our home can be a little difficult. Especially if the children are tired. But there are other times when by God's grace shalom is experienced and enjoyed in our home, if only for brief moments. Here was one of those moments a few days ago.

I was preparing our evening meal in the kitchen and the kids were suspiciously quiet in the living room. So I recognized the need to check in on them. What I found was our children enjoying books with our oldest reading to our youngest, and our 4 year-old enjoying his own book by himself. I thanked God as I went back into the kitchen.