Tuesday, June 30, 2009

God's Ominpresence Not Comforting to the Wicked

We often think of the fact that God is everywhere present as a comforting thing: we are not alone; God is here to help us; God is with us. Sometimes Psalm 139 is cited in this regard.

But God's omnipresence is a thing of terror to the wicked. Have you ever had a dream where your enemy pursues you, and no matter what you do, no matter where you go, you cannot escape? That is literally true of those who reject Christ.

Amos 9 graphically shows the terror of God's omnipresence.

1 I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and He said:
“ Strike the doorposts, that the thresholds may shake,
And break them on the heads of them all.
I will slay the last of them with the sword.
He who flees from them shall not get away,
And he who escapes from them shall not be delivered.
2 “ Though they dig into hell,
From there My hand shall take them;
Though they climb up to heaven,
From there I will bring them down;
3 And though they hide themselves on top of Carmel,
From there I will search and take them;
Though they hide from My sight at the bottom of the sea,
From there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them;
4 Though they go into captivity before their enemies,
From there I will command the sword,
And it shall slay them.
I will set My eyes on them for harm and not for good.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Where I'm at in My Reading

I'm in the middle of several books right now. At the church I'm slowly working my way through With Christ in the School of Prayer (E. M. Bounds) and even more slowly, Keep in Step with the Spirit (J. I. Packer).

At home I'm reading The Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan), On Being a Pastor (Derek Prime and Alistair Begg), Jonathan Edwards on Revival (a compilation of Edwards' works), and Faith on Trial (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones). I'm reading The Chosen (Chaim Potok) to Sara as we have time, usually when she's preparing supper. (I've read this wonderful novel before and wanted Sara to experience it.)

Of course, I'm reading through the Bible, the HCSB at home and the NKJV at church.

As to my reading goals (click here to see those), I've completed The Cross of Christ (John Stott), Macbeth (Shakespeare), The Return of the King (Tolkien), and vol. 1 of the Martyn Lloyd-Jones biography (Iain H. Murray). I'm about a third of the way through The Civil War vol. 1 (Shelby Foote) and about a third of the way through Institutes of the Christian Religion (John Calvin).

I'm an ADD reader, flitting from interest to interest. I have a pastor friend who reads a book a week, cover to cover. He gets more read in a year than I do. (Of course, he doesn't have any kids, either.)

Finally, I should mention that I'm reading a Dana girls mystery, The Mysterious Fireplace, to Caty and The Frog Princess of Pelham to Anna.

9 Reasons to Ask People "What Are You Reading?"

1. It can be a conversation starter, especially if you're familiar with the book or the author or the genre the other person is reading.

2. You might get a good book recommendation.

3. You might save yourself some time. This has happened to me a few times: I'm planning to read a particular book, and then I learn from a trusted friend that it's not worth the paper its printed on.

4. Asking the question keeps me from falling asleep, because I'm interested in books. But start talking to me about finance or the wonderful world of remodeling, and my eyes start to glaze over.

5. What people are reading gives insight into who they are. I always find it fascinating when I find older colleagues reading escapist fiction, for instance. (I do occasionally.) Or when I find younger people intentionally reading classic literature (like Tolstoy or Dickens); that's interesting, too.

6. It opens the way to other questions. Do they read mostly contemporary authors or mostly dead authors? Fiction or non-fiction? A variety or mostly from one or two genres? How do they select the titles they read? Who are their favorite authors? What do they think about what they're currently reading? If they don't read, why not?

7. How they read is also insightful. Do they read one book at a time or several at a time? If several, is it because they are an ADD reader (like me) or another reason? Do they read slowly or quickly?

8. If you've read what they're reading, hearing them talk about it can help you evaluate your own understanding of the book or the author. It also gives you a chance for debate or agreement, further solidifying your own understanding of the title in question.

9. It beats asking them about their dog and having to listen to the exploits of Fifi for the next hour and a half.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Some Principles of Revival

I mentioned recently that I loved vol. 1 of Martyn Lloyd-Jones' biography by Iain H. Murray. Quoting from that post:

Chapter 10, "Revival," may have been the most riveting, eye-opening, informative chapter for me personally. The chapter narrates the revival at Lloyd-Jones' first church under his ministry in 1931; it also delivers much of Lloyd-Jones' understanding of what revival is and isn't as well as how pastors should and should not minister in the normal seasons of the church and in seasons of revival. The whole concept of revival to me has been little more than a foggy notion of which I could pinpoint few particulars. This chapter made great sense out of it all.

Here are some of the salient points I copied down after reading that chapter:

--Revival is conversion on a large scale; it's not different in nature from revival, only in numbers. [That truth alone helped to demystify revival quite a bit for me.]

--Revivals aren't worked up by men; it is God who brings revival.

--Revivals are special times in the life of the church; they are not the norm.

--God uses supremely preaching to bring about revival, and specifically, preaching that preaches carefully the Scriptures and that seeks first to convict men of sin.

--Emotionalism is to be avoided. [Again, man does not work up revival or conversion; God is the one who brings about conversion, and he is the one who brings about revival.]

True feeling must be the result of truth believed and understood, and he frequently gave warning against that type of service where attempts are made to induce emotion by 'working up' the meeting with music and choruses, or by telling of moving stories. 'Tears are a poor criterion for faith, being carried away in a meeting by eloquence or singing or excitement is not the same as committing oneself to Christ.' To aim at emotion is the surest way to produce counterfeit Christians.

--Public professions are not to be sought, but rather the preacher should point his hearers to the need of faith and repentance.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Understanding the Divine Logic behind Persevering Prayer

I read an informative and encouraging chapter about persevering prayer by Andrew Murray today. He uses as his text the parable at the beginning of Luke 18. If you want to read it, click here. It's less than 8 pages long in my paperback.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Not an Accomplished Reader

People who don't read much think I'm a voracious reader. I'm not. I'm a rather slow reader.

I can't compete with these guys. Consider Mark Dever's reading list during his one-week vacation. Or consider Albert Mohler's suggested summer reading list. Or consider Collin Hansen's suggested summer theology reading list.

I'll be lucky to read 10 books period duing the summer, let alone 10 theology books.

I know who Mohler is, I'm familiar with Hansen, and I've only heard Dever's name, but I'm guessing these guys have minds that far surpass mine. Geniuses keep me humble. I would love to read much faster than I do, retaining much more than I do, but ... I am humbled. I'm glad there are guys who do read voraciously so that they can recommend to the rest of us what to read.

Related: George W. Bush reads a lot more than I do, too, even when he was leader of the free world.

A Couple Snippets from Yesterday's Reading

Besides the fact that the ark was a sort of grave for [Noah] for ten months, there can be nothing more unpleasant than to be confined so long—almost immersed in the dung of animals!

--John Calvin, illustrating the fact that the OT saints did not live trouble-free lives, but their hope was also in the next life, not this one; Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:436-37 [2.10.10]

People who neglect attendance at the house of God are not only being unscriptural—let me put it bluntly—they are fools. My experience in the ministry has taught me that those who are least regular in their attendance are the ones who are most troubled by problems and perplexities.

--D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Faith on Trial: Studies in Psalm 73, 40

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Other Satisfying Read

I posted recently about 2 satisfying reads, except that it turned out to be a post about one of the books.

The other book which I thoroughly enjoyed was a biography by Iain Murray entitled, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939. I have the second volume, and I am looking forward to reading that in the near future.

I first heard of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in college, and while I was in college I picked up a massive work of his on the Sermon on the Mount. It is a sermon series of his in print, and what I have read from it is fantastic. Also I picked up another collection of sermons of his on Psalm 73. It was a psalm I did a couple of papers on in college as well as a sermon, and I thought I could profit from his insight. Indeed I did!

I recently listened to an interview with R. Kent Hughes about books to read. He recommended a couple by J. I. Packer, Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, and Lloyd-Jones' Sermon on the Mount, the last one being a great understanding of the Christian faith.

Aside from all that, I didn't know much about Lloyd-Jones, but I picked up the 2-volume set from amazon.com. (I enjoy biographies of great Christians, particularly of missionaries and preachers.)

If I were to compile a list of recommended reading for pastors new to ministry, this bio would be on the list. Why? Well, to answer this you'll have to bear with a little personal background.

When I entered pastoral ministry, I soon realized there were various pictures of pastoral ministry to contend with. The congregation has a picture of what they think a pastor is. There's also a general American portrait of a pastor, or a cultural picture of what a pastor does. Of course there was my own picture, too, drawn to a great degree from what I had observed growing up and in my reading, etc. But I was soon aware that my own picture of pastoral ministry might not be entirely biblical; thus would I being doing things as a pastor that the Bible didn't call for, and I would not being doing some things the Bible did call for.

Thus began for me a quiet quest to understand the biblical view of pastoring and to have my pastoral ministry conform more and more to that. This bio of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is a most helpful tool in that quest. To me it clarifies many issues related to preaching and pastoring, and cuts through the fog of layers of expectations, biblical and unbiblical, placed on pastors.

I found this bio inspiring, both as a Christian and as a pastor. The witness of this book strengthened my faith in God, in the power of the Bible as the Word of God, and in the power of biblical preaching as a tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

Here are some specific topics I found helpful/interesting/gratifying, and I think other pastors/preachers would, too:

The call to ministry. The book discusses both the call of Lloyd-Jones to ministry and Lloyd-Jones' teaching on the call to ministry. (Lloyd-Jones was a prestigious medical physician in England when he felt the call to ministry; many could not fathom why he would give that up.)

Revival. Chapter 10, "Revival," may have been the most riveting, eye-opening, informative chapter for me personally. The chapter narrates the revival at Lloyd-Jones' first church under his ministry in 1931; it also delivers much of Lloyd-Jones' understanding of what revival is and isn't as well as how pastors should and should not minister in the normal seasons of the church and in seasons of revival. The whole concept of revival to me has been little more than a foggy notion of which I could pinpoint few particulars. This chapter made great sense out of it all.

Evangelism and the ministry of the church. When Lloyd-Jones went to Sandfields in Aberavon, Wales, his first church, he dispensed with all the outreach programs of the church. He focused in on the traditional activities of the church: the preaching services, the prayer meeting, Bible study, and men's fellowship. The goal was to save and disciple the congregation. When the church was being the church, living out the life of fellowship in Christ, others would be drawn in.

Study time. Despite the demands of ministry, he devoted portions of his day to private study of the word as well as to reading. When on vacation, he would devote mornings to reading.

Church life. A rather detailed picture of "family life" at Sandfields is given as the church family grew to resemble more and more the one another commands of Scripture. Fascinating stories of conversion and discipleship; some failures are depicted as well.

Additionally, extended quotations from Lloyd-Jones' sermons are included, which in themselves are a wealth of wisdom.

I think you should read the book for yourself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Roadblocks to Effortless Blogging

I enjoy blogging, but "easy" and "effortless" are not words I would choose to describe it. The roadblocks I encounter are the following:

1) Too much to talk about. Sometimes there is so much I want to write about it is hard to choose. Of course, I could blog about each one, but I try to limit myself to one post a day, because I don't think my 3 readers want to read through several posts a day.

2) Nothing to talk about. It's often the case where I can't think of a single thing.

3) Not enough time. Even short posts usually take time to craft, and I do my blogging at the church, not at home. So while I'm working on a post, I'm also thinking about all the stuff around me I could be working on.

4) Not enough passion. I sometimes keep a list of things I want to blog about for the future. However, my passion for some topics does not last. I'm excited when I write something down, but when I come back to it to actually do a post about it, I often think to myself, "What in the world? Why did I ever think blogging about the relative merits of gumdrops might be interesting?"

5) Uncertainty about my blogging audience. With only 3 readers, (and Merrill and Velma don't really count, cause they only check it once in a fortnight--so that just leaves me with one regular reader. Thanks, Mom. Oh, wait, she doesn't read it.), I want to write about what interests my readers. Okay, that's not entirely true; sometimes I throw caution to the wind and write about what interests me and probably only me, like the Civil War, for instance.

I'd continue this post except I'm out of time (#3 above) and I'm not sure what else to say (#2 above). But that's okay, because I'm losing interest (#4 above).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Faith and Accomplishments of President G. W. Bush

Focus on the Family has had Tim Goeglein (sp?) on for the past two days (and I think he's on tomorrow, too). Tim has been talking about his years with President Bush during Bush's entire administration.

Tim is from Fort Wayne, worked for Sen. Quayle, also Congressman Dan Coats (and later Sen. Coats), and finally for President Bush from day one.

The broadcast highlights Bush's faith and accomplishments. Goeglein classifies Bush as one of our great presidents for several reasons, not the least of which is that we did not have another terrorist attack on his watch. I agree.

It's worth listening to both days of the broadcast.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Answers to Prayers Whispered Years Ago

As I was praying this morning, a few prayers prayed long ago were brought to mind.

1 As a young pastor and father, I remember being concerned about how few books I was actually reading. I recognized that a huge source of growth and understanding for me came from books (not just in terms of the content, but also in terms of the thinking process). And because of having a little boy and being involved in youth ministry, I was not getting much reading done. I don't know if I prayed about it, but I do know the Lord discerns our thoughts. Now I log more hours as a pastor, I have four children, and yet I am reading a lot more than I used to. Thank you, Lord. I don't know what you did, but you sure helped.

2 (I do not wish to discourage my single friends, but this is nonetheless a prayer answered for me.) I was 21 and somewhat discouraged. My dad married at the age of 21, and he had known my mom for a couple years prior to that. Seeing my dad's life as a basic pattern for mine, I felt a little behind schedule, to put it unromantically. But as for me, I was not engaged, and further, there was not a visible prospect in my life. Again, I don't know if this was an actual prayer (I think it was), but it was at least a desire: I wanted to be married. Within three months, if that, Sara and I had reconnected and were engaged.

(Just to clarify: I did not pursue Sara because I wanted to be married and anyone would do. I pursued her because I finally realized that she was the one for me. Sometime around Thanksgiving 1990 I was brought to see that I would do well to have Sara as a wife if she would have me, a thought that had little occurred to me before. It was almost a spiritual experience, I think, and maybe sometime I'll go into the details.)

At any rate, the Lord answered my prayer to be married, and he did so in a rather quick and dramatic fashion. His reasons for doing so were good. His reasons for answering others' similar prayers "No" or "Not now" are also equally good, and maybe we'll understand those reasons one day.

3 I remember sitting in the little church I grew up in praying something like, "Lord, I don't think I have a real appreciation of your grace. Surface knowledge is all. Help me to appreciate your grace." I think I was in college at the time.

He has answered that prayer and continues to answer it. He did so and does so by revealing my sinfulness to me. It's not been a pleasant learning experience but a necessary one. The truth is I was sinful then but didn't know it. Now I know it, and I appreciate grace far more.

The Lord is good!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Two Satisfying Reads

I have recently completed two books that I personally would classify as "great."

Yesterday I finished reading J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King. It is the last in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This was my third time through the trilogy.

I experience a deep sense of satisfaction when I come to the end of the trilogy (and even when I'm reading it). It is so well-written. Let me see if I can convey, even if it is random and not nearly as comprehensive as such a work deserves, the factors that contribute to my appreciation of this work of art by Tolkien.

First, it is well-written. It is a better grade of grammar and syntax than much of the fluff one comes across in contemporary novels. (That's not to say there aren't some well-written contemporary novels.) If books are well-written from a grammatical perspective, that alone produces a certain joy.

Second, and this may be a bit hard for me to explain, The Lord of the Rings is an epic, but it's an epic within a whole universe and history that has been created and developed by Tolkien. By contrast, C. S. Lewis created Narnia in writing The Chronicles of Narnia. But long before Tolkien first wrote The Fellowship of the Ring (the first book in the trilogy), he had developed Middle Earth, from its creation all the way through its four ages. He had developed its histories, its various inhabitants (elves, dwarves, men, hobbits, to name a few) and their traditions and lores and habits and customs. As you read The Lord of the Rings you cannot help but get a sense that this story is just one story--a significant one, yes--but just one story pulled out of one huge history. And there is something grand and awesome about that. (It's the way we should feel who belong to the Church universal. The Church of today, we are reminded throughout the Bible, is connected with the Church of the past, and the past is huge. The Bible tries to convey some of the grandeur of the Church in various passages, such as Heb 12:22-24.)

Third, the good characters are truly noble and endowed with dignity. I think it is fashionable in entertainment today to show how bad the good guys really are, and sometimes it's difficult to discern in what ways the good guys are truly good. Tolkien doesn't make his characters perfect, but they are noble, and while they each have struggles, they are not in the end overcome. Aragorn struggles with some doubt. Frodo wishes the burden would fall to someone else. Pippin and Merry sometimes let their tongues get them into trouble. But in the end, they are noble and do what must be done even at great personal sacrifice. None of the good guys are bloodthirsty, but they recognize the need to stand up to evil, even when the odds are long, rather than pretend the evil doesn't exist. As you read you come to love Aragorn and Gandalf and Faramir and Sam and Gimli.

Fourth, there are redemptive themes throughout the story. I don't believe Tolkien intended his work to be overtly Christian; in fact, I'm pretty sure he didn't. Christian parallels are more obvious in The Chronicles of Narnia. But there are nonetheless many ultimate truths illustrated in The Lord of the Rings that the student of the Bible cannot miss. Aragorn and Gandalf, both Messiah-like figures, go through death in one way or another and come out stronger as a result. The night is darkest just before the dawn as Middle Earth passes from the Third Age into the Fourth Age. There is a sense of spiritual captivity upon all the forces of evil, a captivity to do the will of Sauron. Also, "the hands of a king are the hands of a healer." Much more could be put forth by others. (In addition to these redemptive themes are pearls of wisdom dropped from time to time throughout the trilogy; wisdom that is both true on Earth as well as Middle Earth.)

Fifth, this is a book about friendships, deep friendships. The friendship between Frodo and Sam is highly instructive for the sacrifice that Sam puts forth for his beloved Frodo. But there are others, too, such as between Legolas and Gimli (a highly unlikely friendship), Merry and Pippin (they take great joy in one another), the Fellowship and the Hobbits (though they are by comparison "inconsequential," yet the Hobbits are dearly loved and worried about), Gandalf and Frodo (this great wizard recognizes something wonderful in this brave and fearful hobbit), Bilbo and Frodo (the friendship of old and young relatives), and Eomer and Aragorn (a friendship between powerful men with deep respect for the other one's nobility and power).

Sixth, the trilogy is simply a great titanic struggle between good and evil over what the future of Middle Earth will be.

More could be said better by others in favor of this trilogy. I commend its reading to you.

Note: I like The Chronicles of Narnia. But to me it lacks the depth of The Lord of the Rings. I've only read the first book of the Eragon series (recently published). I rank that below The Chronicles of Narnia. Seems flat to me, and it lacks a pure moral vision.

Well, I'm out of time. I hope to tell you about my other satisfying read soon.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

June 1, a Sad Day

... the President of the United States, in an unprecedented and unwarranted move, signed a proclamation on Monday declaring June to be national gay pride month. Last month, the President refused to acknowledge or send a representative to the National Day of Prayer congressional ceremonies as his predecessor had every year for the last eight. But on the first day of June, President Barack Obama declared this to be "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month."

The President’s proclamation praises his being the first U.S. chief executive to appoint "openly LGBT" candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an administration. He also used the proclamation to emphasize gay rights efforts that he intends to pursue in the future on the domestic and international fronts. (excerpt from an email from Micah Clark, head of the Indiana American Family Association)

Don't we as a nation have enough moral problems already? Don't we have enough sins to our credit to warrant God's attention for judgment without proclaiming ourselves sinful in another area and being proud of it?

It's like our President is waving a red flag toward Heaven. "Yoo hoo, come and judge us."

Of course, rampant homosexuality is in itself a manifestation of God's judgment. (Rom 1:26-27).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Grateful for Cancer

During elder prayer this morning, one of our elders, Walt, prayed, "I thank you for this cancer."

After our prayer time he explained, "I praise the Lord that through this I can be a witness, and I am growing." There's a man who is being conformed to the image of Christ, whose obvious goal in life is the same as God's goal for him, to be Christlike.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom 8:29 NIV)