Monday, December 19, 2016

The Roar of Christmas Train Tracks

Another favorite memory, from the train tracks briefly mentioned in yesterday's sermon...


Take time this Christmas to hear the roar.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

of mushrooms, toadstools, and trees



Commenting on tendencies to manipulate religious "decisions," as opposed to making disciples, C.H. Spurgeon once wrote:

"If, for a moment, our improvements seem to produce a larger result than the old gospel, it will be the growth of mushrooms, it may even be of toadstools; but it is not the growth of trees of the Lord."

I ask all DPC'ers to take a moment now and pray for our ministries to our children and to our youth.

Pray:

  • that all leaders, teachers, and parents may grow deep in the things of Christ themselves, refusing to settle for spiritual shallowness or artificiality and truly forsaking the casual, cultural counterfeit version of Christianity
  • that these ministries may be used of the Holy Spirit to produce genuine conversions
  • that the Spirit will work powerfully in the hearts of our children and youth, producing mighty trees, not mushrooms and toadstools
  • that these precious souls may grow up ready to "count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus"
  • that they will grow into champions of God's truth and heralds of God's grace
  • that they will faithfully persevere in Christ... which is the one grace you cannot fake 

And may we persevere in these prayers, waiting for the Lord, with faith.

"Who knows but that prayers offered in faith remain yet to be answered." ~Iain Murray



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Some Post-Election Reading...



The Election Is Over.  Let's Get Political., by Jonathan Leeman
http://tinyurl.com/pzkowhj

President Trump: Now What For The Church?, by Russell Moore
http://tinyurl.com/p5yu7vo

Two Concerns For The Religious Right Under President Trump, by Collin Hansen
http://tinyurl.com/obv5far

Some late-night thoughts about the most stunning election of my lifetime, by Denny Burk
http://tinyurl.com/ngtsgnk

May God Bless President Trump, by David French
http://tinyurl.com/o2thb44





Friday, November 4, 2016

When Entering The Wilderness...



This Sunday at DPC we'll be considering the (first) season of his life when Moses was forced to enter the "wilderness"... which is a situation we all eventually find ourselves in, one way or another.

It's not where we want to be living.  It's not what we want to be doing.  It's not the life we imagined and hoped for.

But this is where life has now taken us, either as consequence of sin or as providence of God or just as part of the facts of existence in a fallen world, where sin & suffering & death are daily realities.

When that is our situation, this prayer from John Wesley (1703-1791) is full of wisdom:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty;
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

The wilderness.  According to what we read in the Scriptures, that's where God does some of his best work with his people.

Come join us this Sunday...


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Bible Project



Have you seen the videos being produced by The Bible Project?

These are incredibly good!  And they are wonderful book introductions for a family to occasionally watch (even multiple times) as they make their way through a book of the Bible together.

https://jointhebibleproject.com/#all-videos

Keep scrolling down and pick out a few to watch.

So good!  You might even want to make a donation.



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The True Hero Of The Story



Last Sunday we began a new sermon series at DPC, opening up the book of Exodus.

As you think about the book of Exodus, it's tempting to regard Moses as the "main character" of this true story.  Moses, from a first reading, seems to be the hero of the story.  It's obvious!

But is he?

Who is it that is at work behind the scenes, keeping his promise?

Who is it that hears the bitter cries of an anguished people, in the midst of their torture and misery?

Who is it that meets suffering with compassion and power?

Who is it that raises up a deliverer to bring the people out of bondage?

Who is it that reveals himself as the eternal I AM?

Who is it that is actually changing everything as the story progresses?

Who is it that brings his holy wrath upon an evil government?

Who is it that divides the sea?

Who is it that overthrows the enemy, casting them into the depths of the sea?

Who is it that provides food and drink for the throng of helpless refugees in the desert?

Who is it that meets his people at the mountain, with fire and thunder and smoke and trumpet blast?

Who is it that publishes his law, written in stone?

Who is it that floods every inch of the tabernacle with the radiance of his glory?

From the first page to the last, there is one Hero in Exodus.  And it's not Moses.

Reflect on these words, from Philip Ryken:
To read Exodus... is to encounter God.  The book is about the mercy, justice, holiness, and glory of almighty God, who rules history by his sovereign power and who saves the people of his covenant.  When the Biblical writers recall the exodus, they rarely mention Moses at all; instead, they speak of the wonders of God.  This gives us a hint that the proper way to study Exodus is to pay constant attention to what the book is showing and telling about the character of God.  Exodus is an exercise in theology, which is simply the study of God.
Come join us!





Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Way in the Wilderness



We begin a new sermon series THIS SUNDAY, in which we'll discover (along with Moses) more of this God who finally and fully revealed himself to us in Christ, and how this God is always loving his people... even in the wilderness.

"Exodus is about a man, Moses, who sets all against the reality of divine sovereignty and measures all in terms of God's requirements.  Exodus is about a nation, Israel, moving from slavery in Egypt into freedom.... But ultimately Exodus is about the God of the covenant who has instituted a new relationship between himself and those whom he has called to be his people.  It is about how he introduces himself to them, acts on their behalf and shows them the real difference it makes that the LORD [Yahweh] is their God, and about the patience he shows as he leads them out of their grumbling, even outright rebellion, until he comes to dwell in their midst." 
            ~John L. Mackay

"[The Exodus] cannot possibly be fictional.  No nation would be likely to invent for itself, and faithfully transmit century after century and millennium after millennium, an inglorious and inconvenient tradition of this nature." 
            ~Nahum Sarna

"If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me." 
            ~Jesus of Nazareth

If you'd like to read a short introduction to the book of Exodus (much of which will serve as our main text for this series), you may find one here:

http://www.ransom-road.com/2013/02/the-book-of-deliverance.html



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who were you hoping would heal America?

Seems like a good day to return to this... on many different levels.  This was originally posted Wednesday, November 7, 2012.





Conservative-minded people will range from mild depression to anger to living in the pit of outright despair today.  I can relate.  But...

If you're a follower of Christ, remember what he taught us to pray:  "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

What is the kingdom?  The kingdom is the powerful rule of Jesus Christ (in word and deed), through which he is bringing God’s healing to every single aspect of human life in this world.

Who were you hoping would bring that kingdom to bear upon this world?  Whose responsibility is it? 

It's not Mitt Romney's responsibility.  It's not the responsibility of the office of the President of the United States of America, a country that only came into existence a short 236 years ago. 

Christ’s church is the community through which his kingdom is coming into this world. 

Has last night's election results changed something?  No.

We are still called to proclaim the gospel of Christ (in word and deed), which alone has the power to transform any person, any family, any relationship, any community, any work, any institution, any city, any nation.

We are still called to live in the cross-shaped truth and reality of his kingdom -- in our worship, our community-life, our mission, & our disciple-making. 

Christians, we're still living the same story the church was living back in the days of Emperor Nero. 

Of course, we pray for godly leaders who will rule with wisdom.  We make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people (including our "kings" & all others in high positions).  We want to live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 1.1,2).   

Some political realities may be more conducive to that "peace" from our perspective than others... but remember who heals the world. 

It's not the president.  It's the church -- bringing the kingdom to bear, proclaiming and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

And to that end King Jesus will cause temporary things like nations to rise and he will cause them to fall.  Is he doing one or the other right now?  I don't know.

But I do know this -- he's ruling in such a way that will ultimately advance his kingdom.

Perhaps... just perhaps... he's ruling in the way he's ruling right now to teach his American church that we're going to have to grow up and take the responsibility of salt and light for this world.

There will be no "easy" solutions that come with the magic of circling in an oval on a ballot sheet. 

Maybe in the past when God gave the church more peace and freedom, we didn't use it to seek the kingdom.  Instead, maybe we became presumptuous and lazy. 

Follow Christ and seek his kingdom, Christian.  What you do with your life matters.  What we do together in our worship, our community-life, our mission, and our disciple-making matters.

It matters far more than who sits in the oval office.




Friday, September 23, 2016

The Charlotte Riots & The Gospel



Below is a link to the facebook page of Christ Central Church, in Charlotte, which is pastored by a faithful brother of mine from seminary, Howard Brown.

Howard is African-American, by the way.

Go to the post from September 22, and you'll see Howard being interviewed by a news anchor.

Howard just pointed the whole world to the gospel of Jesus Christ, from the very midst of enormous grief, bitterness, confusion, and panic.

https://www.facebook.com/christcentralchurch/



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Precede: go in front or ahead of



One of the prayers of Thomas Cranmer (leader of the English Reformation & Archbishop of Canterbury during the 1500's) begins with these words:

"Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us..."

Which sounds really weird to us today.  Prevent us?

But in the older English the word "prevent" actually means "precede."  In this prayer we're asking God to send his grace in front of us, ahead of us, before us, as we travel the path that God has given us to travel.

"And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people." ~Exodus 13

This is the great prayer from the midst of The Lorica, that wonderful song written by St. Patrick in the 5th century (the song sung after the baptism of each of my 5 children):

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me 
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I recently read of a pastor who was enjoying a sabbatical from a particularly difficult time in his pastoral ministry.  Back home, he had felt like everything was too overwhelming, too impossible, too crushing.  And he was too fragile, too frail, too weak.

As his sabbatical was nearing the end, he said to a friend: "I cannot face going back.  It is too much and too hard."

His friend replied: "Wait a minute.  Do you really think that the same Christ you adore here will not also be waiting for you there?"

What are your fears, your trials, your battles?  What future do you dread?

"Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us..."



Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Victimization: A Waste of our Suffering



"Anything that tastes as good as anger should be taken in moderation and never on an empty stomach. But the problem with anger is that it makes us lose interest in the blessings of life because we can only think about the one infuriating thing. We obsess over it and become intoxicated with the hurt we feel. This is why the old saints claimed that victimization is a waste of our suffering. Once we take on the identity of victims, we are allowing nothing redemptive to occur, and since we have idolized the anger, how can we be open to such divine gifts as healing, forgiveness, and the gravitas that emerges through adversity?"

~M. Craig Barnes

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Some Thoughts On The Church, Part V



So... putting these last four posts together & coming up with some points of application or discussion:

  • Jesus has sent his church out into the world, in the same way that He Himself was sent out into the world by his Father.
  • He entered into this world; he invaded this world.  He did not seek to avoid this world or its messiness.  Part of what that means for us is seeking to enter into the lives of others... not avoiding them or their messiness.  Always remember: Jesus entered into our mess with us!
  • When was the last time we took the time to enter into someone's misunderstanding of the gospel?  When was the last time we entered into someone's trial or affliction or doubt or pain or tears or questions or loneliness with them?  
  • Of course, one reason we don't tend to do that very faithfully or very much is because it would be costly and sacrificial for us.  That's exactly what it was like for Jesus too.
  • And yet, he never, never, never entered into the world at the expense of his own holiness.  And never, never, never should we.  For example, it does not bring any glory to God when a Christian dates an unbeliever in order to bear a witness to them.  We are called to be holy, as he is holy.  If Jesus really is the center of our affections, we won't fall into the trap of forfeiting faithfulness for any "missional" rationalization.
  • To grow into this well, we need to look squarely at the reality that the church has normally had a difficult time with this.  We tend to either relinquish and neglect the mission in order to protect our own sense of being religious, by withdrawing from the world.  Or we tend to stray away from the holiness of our faith, becoming more and more conformed to this world, under the guise of being missional.
  • Faithful Presence.  Holy Worldliness.  In the World, but not of the World.  As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus has sent his church into the world.
  • If we lose our holiness, the church has nothing distinctive to say.  We are compromised.
  • If we are not living deeply in the world, being "present" with our neighbors, entering into their life and suffering with them, we have no one to serve.  We are so isolated, our gospel witness is absent.
  • Let us think on these things... 


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Some Thoughts On The Church, Part IV



"Holy Worldliness."
"In the world, but not of the world."
"Faithful Presence."  

These are some of the ways we were thinking about the calling and nature of the church last time, and we ended that reflection by preparing ourselves to see a strong and clear and beautiful picture of this calling and nature, in the person of Jesus Christ.

After all... who demonstrated more "holy worldliness" than Jesus?  Who showed himself to be more "in the world, but not of the world" than Jesus?  Who exhibited a more "faithful presence" in this world than Jesus?

And if the church really is "the body of Christ" in this world, then the Christ-likeness of the church in these matters... matters.

Consider this description of Jesus our Lord, from John Stott:
"Nobody has ever exhibited the meaning of 'holy worldliness' better than our Lord Jesus Christ himself.  His incarnation is the perfect embodiment of it.  On the one hand he came to us in our world, and assumed the full reality of our humanness.  He made himself one with us in our frailty, and exposed himself to our temptations.  He fraternized with the common people, and they flocked round him eagerly.  He welcomed everybody and shunned nobody.  He identified himself with our sorrows, our sins and our death.  On the other hand, in mixing freely with people like us, he never sacrificed, or even for one moment compromised, his own unique identity.  His was the perfection of 'holy worldliness.'"
This is what God the Father "sent" Jesus into the world to be.

And now, this is what Jesus is sending the church into the world to be...

"As you sent me into the world,
so I have sent them into the world."
John 17.18

"Jesus said to them again,
'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,
even so I am sending you.'”
John 20.21



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Some Thoughts On The Church, Part III



There is another way to understand and participate in the life and work of the church... and we might think of this way as proceeding along a set of train tracks.

One rail is loving and worshiping God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.  The other rail, of course, is loving and serving your neighbor as you yourself would want to be loved and served (Luke 10.27).

These separate but united rails (or tracks) of the church's life are witnessed every Lord's Day morning, in the opening and closing rituals of worship.

In the Call to Worship, the church is called out of the world, that it might worship God together, as one body.  Word, sacrament, song, confession, prayer, giving, communion, sermon, repentance, the assurance of the gospel, fellowship, etc... We answer this sacred call and come together in one assembly, loving and worshiping God.

But in the Benediction, the church is sent back out into the world, bearing God's blessing and God's Name, that we might lay down our lives as the salt and light of this world, in witness and service.

In the one image we see the holiness of the church—we are the ones who have been "called out" from the world, to belong to God and worship him.

In the other image we see the apostolic nature of the church—we are the ones who have also been "sent out" on God's mission in this world.

Putting both images together, we might speak of what some have called the "holy worldliness" of Christ's church.

We are called to be morally distinct and spiritually separate from the world:  holy.

But we are simultaneously called to be absolutely immersed in the life of the world: worldly.

As some would say, "in the world, but not of the world."  As others would say, "faithful presence."

If you want to meditate on the meaning of all this by contemplating a strong and clear and beautiful picture of holy worldliness... (of being in the world, but not of the world—of faithful presence)... God has certainly given us one.

Any guesses as to whom it might be?

We'll start with him next time...




Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Some Thoughts On The Church, Part II



"Not for yourself, O church, do you exist,
any more than Christ existed for himself."

C.H. Spurgeon

 "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."

Jesus, to his church


Identity and vocation.  Who (or what) is the church?  And what are we called to do?  Those are the questions we raised in Part I of this series of reflections.

But before attempting a faithful answer, let's erase a couple of bad answers from the board.

BAD ANSWER #1... The church is a club for religiously-minded people who like to get together and do religiousy things.  Some people join a chess club because they like chess.  Others join golf clubs or bridge clubs or sewing clubs or motorcycle clubs or reading clubs, etc.

One common denominator in these sorts of clubs is that the club exists to serve you, the one joining it.  You get to enjoy a reservoir of people very much like you!  You all have a common interest, and you all pay your dues, and now you are all entitled to reap the benefits of being in the club.

In the "religious club" church, the common interest is mere religion.  And your focus is on the status your membership in the club affords you, personally.  You are one of the religious ones, and you should feel quite good about that.  The very club itself exists to congratulate you on your accomplishment.

It has been attributed to many, but I think this quote belongs first to William Temple (1881-1944): “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members."

That's perhaps an overstatement, but overstatements can make a strong point.  We don't need more religious-club churches, turning in on themselves and retreating into self-righteous self-absorption.

Let's erase that answer from the board.

BAD ANSWER #2... The church is merely an organization for serving social causes of various sorts.  The church does not need to be so centered on theology or worship or the gospel... or even Jesus, for that matter.  These things mostly just divide us or restrain us or make us annoyingly offensive to the world.

Church should be more about us getting out there and helping people.  Different kinds of people may express their spirituality differently; let's just celebrate that and get on with the big-picture mission of... being on a mission... after all, that's what it means to be Christian... it means that you're on a mission to help people.  And you should feel quite good about that.

Let's erase that answer from the board as well.  Because while the church is most definitely on a mission, the mere fact that you are on some mission does not mean that you're worshipping God.  Nor does it necessarily mean that you're loving God (or people) in the way that God commands.

True worship and true mission inform one another and flow into one another richly... but they are not interchangeable.

We do not have the right to reinterpret worship as mission.  Christian mission is both a result of worship and the joyful hope of more worship.  But let's stop confusing and conflating these categories.

There is another way. 





Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Some Thoughts On The Church, Part I



When someone doesn't know who they really are, what do we call that person?  What diagnosis do we give them?

I'm not sure exactly what term the medical community would use, but it would be some form of mental illness.

What about when someone doesn't know what they are supposed to be doing?

We may not leap towards diagnosing mental illness in that situation, but that's not good either.  Essential to a healthy, fruitful life is having a strong idea of what you are doing here.

So... identity and vocation.  Who you are and what you're called to do.

These are matters of foundational importance for you, personally.  If you get these woefully wrong, it won't really matter that much how neat and organized your daily calendar is.  It will be a nicely arranged and systematized monument to a misspent life.

If this is true for you, how much more is it true for the church.

Identity.  Who and what is the church?  Have we grasped who we really are?

Vocation.  What is the church called to do?  Why are we here?

A false self-image in either of these categories would be disastrous for the church.  If we get these foundational matters wrong, it won't really matter that much how neat and organized our programs are.  They will all amount to a nicely arranged and systematized monument to exactly nothing, eternally speaking.

Good answers begin with good theology.  Good theology begets faithful ministry and healthy churches.

Back to the blackboard soon...




Friday, July 8, 2016

regarding violence


There is a place for the violence of just war and just defense.

But that's not what King was referring to.

Nor is it what I'm referring to in this post.



Tuesday, May 31, 2016

3 Things About The Mission



The verse under consideration is Acts 2.47, the second half:

"And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."

Note:

  • Adding to the church is something the Lord does.  Only he can do it.  Who else can open the eyes of the blind, but the Lord?  Who else can bring life to a dead heart, but the Lord?  He does this through his church, to be sure... through the faithful worship and works of mercy and Bible teaching of the church, and through the everyday love and witness of its members.  But note well that HE does it. 
  • Being saved means being added to the church.  Jesus does not save people without adding them to his church.  Salvation and the life of the church go together.  If you profess salvation through faith in Jesus Christ but are estranged from his church, something is very wrong and very broken.  
  • In the book of Acts, Jesus was doing these things "day by day."  This was not an occasional thing; it was not a big, special event kind of thing.  It was a daily thing, as regular and on-going as their worship and life together.  Now, notice the word "and" at the beginning of the verse.  We should check out what was going on before the "and," right?  In vs.42-47a, the church's worship and life together were described.  This is what the Lord was crowning and honoring, "day by day," with converts.  If we want to see more of v.47b, perhaps the place to start is v.42... working and praying our way there.
 





Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My Brother's Keeper



I once asked one of my children: "Where's your brother?"  The response: "I dunno.  Am I my brother's keeper?"  Me:  "Oh no... you didn't kill him, did you?"

But let's think for a moment about what it means to be my brother's (or sister's) keeper in the family of Christ...

First, it means that the classic "loner" is a very broken individual.  We were not made to be loners.  We were made for community, for one another.  We need fellowship.

Secondly, we need to realize that just being in the crowd on Sunday morning does not automatically equal "fellowship."  Just being in the crowd does not necessarily mean that you are getting to know and genuinely care about those around you.  It does not mean that you are letting them know and care about you.

In fact, the larger the crowd becomes, the more difficult that will be!  The larger the crowd, the less likely it is that the individual souls in the crowd will really and truly know one another.

There's nothing wrong with a big crowd, of course.  But we need to realize that just being present in a crowd is not what the Bible means by fellowship... by church... by being your brother's keeper.

In fact, being in a big crowd can sometimes just accentuate one's sense of loneliness.

Gospel community plug here: look into becoming a part of a community group, a life group, or a really good Bible Study... a group of people who are genuinely and practically learning what it means to have fellowship in Christ.

A crowd is a poor counterfeit for community.  Don't cheat yourself.

Thirdly, realize that God designed the church so that you might grow into maturity there—in the context of all those human relationship, with all their ups and downs.  (Much like God's purpose in the natural family—that's where God intends human beings to grow into maturity: in that network of relationships, with all their ups and downs.)

In the natural family, you learn to become who God has made you to be inside this network of people called mom, dad, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin, grandfather, grandmother, neighbor, etc.

In the family of Christ, you learn to become who God has called you to be inside this network of people called brother, sister, deacon, elder, pastor, Nori, Lolita, Lucinda, Scott... (& those are only the first four first names on the membership roll).

Yes.  You are your brother's keeper.  And your sister's keeper.

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is..." (Psalm 133)

NOTE: there will be a discussion of gospel community tonight (May 24), at DPC, at 6:30 pm.  If you'd like to join us, you are most welcome.  Trace, Sean, and I will be leading.


 


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

1st Summer Read



"By remaining faithful to its original commission,
by serving its people with love,
especially the poor, the lonely, and the dispossessed,
and by not surrendering its doctrinal steadfastness,
sometimes even the very contradiction of culture
by which it serves as a sign,
surely the Church serves the culture best."
~Walker Percy~

Just started this book, but I highly recommend it so far.

From the introduction:

"... from the very beginning, Christian values were always more popular in American culture than the Christian gospel.  That's why one could speak of 'God and country' with great reception in almost any era of the nation's history but would create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned 'Christ and him crucified.'  God was always welcome in American culture.  He was, after all, the Deity whose job it was to bless America.  The God who must be approached through the mediation of the blood of Christ, however, was much more difficult to set to patriotic music or to 'Amen' in a prayer at the Rotary Club."

Do you have a 1st summer read picked out yet?

If not... join me!  Russell Moore, Onward



Monday, May 9, 2016

A Most Inconvenient Vow



In much the same way that the 4th commandment is the most ignored and neglected of the 10, the 5th membership vow (in a PCA church) is the most inconvenient and neglected of the 5:

Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

And yet, as inconvenient as it is for us all (including myself at times), this is precisely where God has commanded his great blessing!  That's what Psalm 133 says: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!.... For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore."

One of the great works on this is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book "Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community."  Enjoy some excerpts:


“Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community... Let him who is not in community beware of being alone... Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

“If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. ... How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?”

“God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth.”

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”

“Christian community is like the Christian's sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother's confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.”







Saturday, April 30, 2016

Wanting To Be Someone Else



Tomorrow morning at DPC we'll be considering the third petition of the Lord's Prayer: "your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

The original plan was to consider this in two aspects: OBEYING GOD'S WILL & ACCEPTING GOD'S WILL... but the part about obeying God's will kept growing & growing, until it pushed the part about accepting God's will right out of the sermon.

So... I thought I'd mention a few things on the subject of accepting God's will here on the blog...

Just last weekend our conference speaker made some humorous references to how he always wanted to be like two of his older brothers, who were big college football stars.  But he himself was simply not built in the same manner as his brothers.  It was a dream that just wasn't going to materialize, Rudy notwithstanding.

Have you ever felt like that?  Why can't I have his height?  Her skin?  His build?  Her hair?  His humor?  Her intelligence?  His personality?  Her parents?  His athleticism?  Her eyes?  His voice?  Her nose?... the list goes on & on, world without end.  Even those people whom we are tempted to envy have their own lists like this, believe it or not.

But part of what we mean when we pray "your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" is a gentle correction to this corrosive, cancerous spirit of envy in our hearts.  God could very well have made me with that height, that skin, that build, that hair, etc.

But he didn't.  It was not his will to do so.

Will we accept that?  And gladly get on with faithfully being whom God made us to be?

Or will we continue to pick ourselves sore?

Submitting to God's good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12.2) means—among other things—accepting how God designed us, physically.

We have dozens of strengths!  And we also have dozens of things we are tempted to regard as weaknesses.  But have the courage and faith to cast off the world's shallow ideals for beauty and image.  Embrace God's good, acceptable, and perfect will for who you are.  You were wonderfully and fearfully made (Psalm 139.14).

Robert Coles, a Harvard sociologist, tells of meeting a little girl who scribbled out a self-portrait in crayon.  She pointed to it and said, "That’s me, and the Lord made me.  When I grow up my mama says I may not like how he made me, but I have to remember that he did it & it's his idea!"

Take another look at how the Creator made you.  Your features, your talents, your personality, your limitations, your body.  "Lord, this is who you made me to be.  Your will be done.  May I honor you fully and wholeheartedly, as the person you designed me to be."

Of course, if you are sinning in a way that's deforming whom God made you to be, turn away from that with all your heart.  Venture everything on the full, frontal assault against your own sin habits.

But as to your created, divinely-designed features... you were wonderfully and fearfully made.  God's will is good, acceptable, and perfect.  Worship.  And be thankful.  Do not complain about God's design—what is included, what is not included.  Be humble, be meek.  Be you.

There's an old Christian covenant renewal worship service in which believers would pray the following prayer together.  Pray it and grow wise.  It can be applied in a thousand ways.

"I am no longer my own, but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—thou art mine, and I am thine.  So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen."



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Central Problem Of Our Age... isn't what you think it is.



On his blog, Ray Orland quotes Francis Schaeffer, adding in a few comments...

"The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever].  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.  The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.” 
~Francis A. Schaeffer

Exactly.

Come join us at DPC's Christian Faith & Life Conference this weekend.

THE CHURCH IN CAPTIVITY
Wisdom & Faithfulness In This Moment

Friday, April 22
6:00 pm, Nacho Bar!
7:00 pm, Christ & Culture

Saturday, April 23
6:30 pm, Desserts & Coffee!
7:00 pm, Christ & The Church

Sunday April 24
10:45 am, Christ & You

Speaker: Hal Farnsworth

Address:  2306 Modaus Rd. SW; Decatur, AL

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

More advice to husbands...



Back in November of 2014, I gave THIS ADVICE to husbands.

Now, as a follow up—gentlemen—I invite you to imagine this...

Book a couple of nights for your wife and yourself at one of the great bed and breakfast inns in the lovely city of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  There are several to choose from, but you won't go wrong at The Chanticleer Inn.

There are many treasures to enjoy in Chattanooga... great restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, shopping areas, mountain views, hiking trails, parks, a beautiful downtown with a walking bridge, the aquarium, the art museum, etc.

And if you're there over a Lord's Day (Sunday), there are some great churches.  Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, for one.  Do not neglect meeting together with God's People on the Day of Resurrection, no matter what city you wake up in (Hebrews 10.25).

But for a day of great adventure, the two of you can ride the excellent rental bikes down the Tennessee RiverPark.  It's a superb ride, full of wonders—the kind of wonders called into existence by the speech of God and the kind formed by the hand of man.

And, very exciting for members of DPC, there are these signs here and there along the trail, helpfully informing everyone that Presbyterians have the right of way.  Admittedly, I was flying past these signs pretty fast, but I'm pretty sure that's what they said.

"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship,
communion or company than a good marriage."
Martin Luther







Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"I am afraid to die."



This last Sunday I used a "loyal dog" illustration in our sermon at DPC.

That story prompted one of our church family members to send me the great story below.

As we prepare for a church family funeral tomorrow—giving thanks for the life of a man who will be mightily missed—I share it with you all now...

************

A terminally ill man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, “Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.”

The doctor was holding the handle of the door. On the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped to the sick man with eagerness and joy.

Turning to the patient, the doctor said:

“If you know Jesus as Lord and Savior then you can be as wise as your dog.  He’s never been in this room before. He didn’t know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear.  I know little of what is on the other side of death. But I do know one thing. I know my Master is there and that is enough….”



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Good Friday Reflection



Below is a portion of John Donne's haunting poem, "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward."  

If you're like me, you probably struggle to fully enter into and appreciate poetry.  

Our time is too rushed.  Our souls are too flat.

And there is far too much attraction to "worthlessness" (as the prophet Jeremiah puts it, 2.5) setting up camp in our hearts.

But this is worth the effort to slow down... read every line until it's well understood... & meditate upon.

You will be ushered into a serious-hearted joy.  You will be brought into worship. 



But that Christ on His cross, did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees God's face, that is self-life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us, and our antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul's, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for his apparel, ragg'd and torn?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On his distressed mother cast mine eye,
Who was God's partner here, and furnish'd thus
Half of that sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They're present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and Thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.



Thursday, March 17, 2016

Our Loves & Our Politics



At DPC we talk a fair amount about re-centering our loves on Jesus Christ.  If our loves are indeed centered on Christ, all of our other loves will be properly ordered and properly strengthened.

If some other love has displaced Jesus at the center... be it work, spouse, football, money, children, our idea of being religious, our public image, entertainment, beauty, pleasure, etc... our loves will be all out of order and our lives will be all out of whack.

True discipleship and growth in sanctification must start with what we love.

Below is a link to an article that a PCA pastor in Kentucky wrote, applying this thought to this year's election cycle.  I recommend a thoughtful reading of it to you...

http://tcpca.org/2016/03/17/in-love-with-donald-trump/






Monday, March 7, 2016

This May Feel Implausible At First



In Matthew 5, Jesus refers to his church as "the light of the world."

Think about that for a moment, being mindful of the local church you know best.  "The light of the world."  At first, this may feel somewhat implausible to you.

Let's think it through for a minute...

John Stott is helpful here: "The need for light is obvious.... The world is evidently a dark place, with little or no light of its own, since an external source of light is needed to illumine it.  

"True, [the world] is always talking about its enlightenment, but much of its boasted light is in reality darkness.... 'You are the light of the world.'  True, he was later to say, 'I am the light of the world.'  But by derivation we are too, shining with the light of Christ, shining in the world like stars in the night sky....

"What this light is Jesus clarifies as our 'good works.'  Let men once see 'your good works,' he said, and they will 'give glory to your Father who is in heaven,' for it is by such good works that our light is to shine.

"It seems that 'good works' is a general expression to cover everything a Christian says and does because he is a Christian, every outward and visible manifestation of his Christian faith.

"Since light is a common biblical symbol of truth, a Christian's shining light must surely include his spoken testimony.  Thus, the Old Testament prophecy that God's Servant would be 'a light to the nations' is said to have been fulfilled not only in Christ himself, the light of the world, but also by Christians who bear witness to Christ.

"Evangelism must be counted as one of the 'good works' by which our light shines and our Father is glorified....

"It is healthy to be reminded that believing, confessing, and teaching the truth are also 'good works' which give evidence of our regeneration by the Holy Spirit.  We must not limit them to these, however.

'Good works' are works of love as well as of faith.  They express not only our loyalty to God, but our care for our fellows as well.  Indeed, the primary meaning of 'works' must be practical, visible deeds of compassion.  

It is when people see these, Jesus said, that they will glorify God, for they embody the good news of his love which we proclaim.  Without them our gospel loses its credibility and our God his honor."

Does that seem implausible to you?  That Jesus was thinking about US when he was talking about the light of the world?

But I will tell you a deeper mystery...

Can you picture the crowd before whom Jesus first said this?

It was just a relative handful of Palestinian peasants.  In an enemy-occupied land.  Who very justifiably felt like they had little to no influence over anything.  And this was some 2,000 years ago.

And yet... as theologian John Frame once said, "Christians down through the centuries, for distinctively Christian motives, have vastly influenced western culture in such areas as help for the poor, teaching of literacy, education for all, political freedom, economic freedom, science, medicine, the family, the arts, the sanctity of life.

"Without Jesus, without his gospel, without the influence of his people, all these areas of culture would be vastly different and very much worse."  

You are the light of the world.

But here's a question for you... how do you plan to stay enlightened?




Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Key To All Of History



Larry King, the legendary talk show host, was once asked whom he would like to interview if he could have his pick from all of human history.

Think about that for a moment... George Washington?... Thomas Jefferson?... Hellen Keller?... Alexander the Great?... Charles Darwin?... Harriet Tubman?... Sigmund Freud?... St. Augustine?... Emperor Constantine?... Hippocrates?... Aristotle?... Galileo?... Christopher Columbus?... Pocahontas?... Isaac Newton?... Michelangelo?... Leonardo da Vinci?... Mozart?... Beethoven?... Sacagawea?... Gautama Buddha?... Homer (not Simpson, but the other one)?... Anne Frank?... Julius Caesar?... Hitler?... Napoleon?... Jane Austin?... Muhammad?... Einstein?... Lincoln?... Shakespeare?... Marx?... Martin Luther?... Genghis Khan?... Joan of Arc?...

The list could go on for quite a while.  And, if you enjoy the mysterious story of history, each possibility has its own fascinations.

Larry King answered, "Jesus Christ."

The questioner paused.  And then asked his follow-up: "What is the one question you would like to ask him?"

Larry King: "I would ask him if he indeed was virgin born, because the answer to that would define history for me."






Wednesday, February 24, 2016

America: past, present, future



Yesterday I got to hear one of my heroes speak, and I even got to meet him, very briefly.  A bit more on that below.

There is so much going on in our nation's political and cultural conversation right now, with so many complex parts fitting together in sometimes-weird ways.  And I definitely do not pretend to understand it all.

But I am certain of this: there's one very large background piece to the conversation that most people have a fairly shallow understanding of, and that's the Civil Rights era.

If you wanted to do a little investigation, here's a pretty good starter step: read John M. Perkins' book, "Let Justice Roll Down."  He's a for-real Civil Rights hero, and at "85... and a half" (as he said yesterday), he's still going strong.  

And after you read his story, go love someone very different from you, in the name of Christ and his kingdom.  A public theology of love will go a long way toward shaping the future in a way that matters.

By the way, I'm the one on the left in the picture.



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

GRIT



COMING SOON TO DPC... 

GRIT
a retreat for men & future men

March 11 & 12

stay tuned for more information

“Scarcely in politics, in business, or in religion, have you got a man. You see a lot of things which are called men, who turn the way the wind blows. I pray God to send a few men with what the Americans call ‘grit’ in them; men who when they know a thing to be right, will not turn away, or turn aside, or stop; men who will persevere all the more because there are difficulties to meet or foes to encounter; who stand all the more true to their Master because they are opposed; who, the more they are thrust into the fire, the hotter they become; who, just like the bow, the further the string is drawn, the more powerfully will it send forth its arrows, and so, the more they are trodden upon, the more mighty will they become in the cause of truth against error.”

C.H. Spurgeon




Monday, February 8, 2016

24 Years of Wonderful



Happy 24th Dating Anniversary to the best wife ever.

The movie was okay.  The company was beautiful.  

"An excellent wife is the crown of her husband."

Proverbs 12



Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How Did You Spend Groundhog Day?



Yesterday was Groundhog Day.  And last night, after a day spent in the various callings God has assigned to each of us, the seven members of my immediate family returned to one of the greatest movies made in the last 1,000 years...

GROUNDHOG DAY.

Which reminded me of this, from a Ransom Road post in November of 2012...

*****

A couple of days ago -- looking to enjoy a rare evening of thoughtless entertainment -- my older kids & I had some milkshakes & popped in the movie Groundhog Day. 

But... actually... it didn't turn out to be "thoughtless" entertainment at all.  It's really one of the most meaningful and poignant movies I've ever seen. 

When we first meet Phil Connors, he's this self-absorbed, shallow man -- frustrated with the emptiness and meaninglessness of his life.  But he's trapped in it.  No way out.  Anyone ever felt that way?

And then something really weird happens.  Phil keeps living the very same day over and over again.  And the whole movie turns on how Phil responds to this situation.

At first he feels like he's been condemned to live the save day over and over again.  "What would you do if every day was the same, and nothing you did ever mattered?"  

But then he suddenly plunges into a life of sheer, irresponsible pleasure-seeking.  "I'm not going to play by their rules any longer!"  There are no consequences for Phil; he can get away with anything he wants -- no fear of punishment! 

What would you do with that kind of freedom?

What Phil eventually found is that this kind of life is even emptier than his previous life.  That's what everyone who squanders and trivializes themselves with this kind of life discovers.  Always.  It's hollow.  You can't find meaning in sin.  You just weren't made for it. 

He then tries to find a sense of fulfillment in love.  But it's not genuine love, for the benefit of the other.  It's still Phil loving Phil.  He tries a thousand different ways to manipulate love from Rita, his wholesome co-worker. 

But you can't do that.  Love won't be manipulated. 

Sensing the emptiness of self-love and unable (as of yet) to truly love, he despairs of the seemingly-eternal emptiness of life and attempts to end himself. 

But... he can't even do that.  The weirdness of what has happened has made him powerless to do so.  He doesn't have that kind of authority.  He's not sovereign.  In fact, as a weatherman, he can't even predict the weather accurately!  (Earlier in the film he boasted, "I make the weather!")

It's looking like Rita was dead on when, earlier, she quoted Sir Walter Scott to Phil: 


The wretch, concentered all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored, and unsung.


Then something starts to slowly change in Phil.  He begins to enjoy life:  music, literature, art, loving and serving others in a great variety of ways. 

Earlier he treated all people with contempt.  "People are morons!," he said.  But now, instead of treating people with contempt, he's loving and serving them -- everyone who crosses his path.  And even those he goes out of his way to find.

He's dying to himself and serving his neighbor.

But key to this stage in Phil's response is his interaction with this beggar.  Earlier in the movie Phil ignored the beggar.  Now he tries to save the beggar's life, for this is the day the beggar's life will end.

But he can't save the beggar's life.  He tries to do so repeatedly, many different ways.  But he can't.  The man keeps dying. 

Finally, Phil submits to this.  The last time we see the beggar die (his last breath rising up in the cold February air), Phil looks up to heaven.

God is the Lord of life and the Lord of death.  God can't be resisted.  God can't be ignored.  God must be believed and loved and submitted to. 

Now, it's not that all of that is specifically said in the movie.  But when people look up to heaven that way in that kind of context, that's where you are. 

Now it seems that he's added wisdom to his life of self-sacrificial love and service. 

And that -- surprise! -- is when Rita begins to love Phil.  In fact, she empties all that she has in her bank account to "buy" him at a community festival where eligible bachelors are auctioned off.  In Phil, she's now found something that has a slight aroma of the kingdom of God, the pearl of great price.  It's worth everything she has.

But at this point the "new" Phil declares that he's genuinely unworthy of her. 

And that's when he's set free.

I love the movie.  It's laugh-out-loud funny, for one thing.  But for another, you're watching a man move from foolishness to wisdom in a very Ecclesiastes-like fashion. 

Can it teach us something about the Kingdom of God?  Yes, it can.  Of course, I'm sure that wasn't the movie-maker's intention.  But I found myself thinking through Jesus' words with fresh application:  "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."