Monday, April 30, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Give Me Jesus'

Fernando Ortega has blessed Christians in particular with two decades of original music and reworked hymns. He has written some splendid songs about God, and he has done some beautiful arrangements of cherished hymns. This one, "Give Me Jesus," is a simple, yet powerful version of a traditional, African-American spiritual.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

For your attention

1. Ryan Pittman shares his testimony -- This video linked to by The Works of God blog is of the salvation testimony of Ryan Pittman, a young man with Down syndrome. It is only about two minutes in length, and I believe God will provide a great blessing as you watch it.

2. The gospel of Jesus is conquering false religions and witchcraft in East Africa -- This Baptist Press article tells the story of God's gracious work in the Horn of Africa, and so does this one and this one.

3. Vanderbilt clamps down on students' religious freedom -- This post by Justin Taylor provides a good overview, with links and a video, of Vanderbilt University's effort to require on-campus Christian ministries to permit unbelievers as leaders.

4. Praying for suffering saints around the world -- This calendar/map by Frontline Missions provides guidance for 31 days of prayer for Christians living under oppressive regimes.

5. Pray for Voice of the Martyrs-- Sin and shame can lead to hopelessness, and that may be what happened to the leader of the Voice of the Martyrs, an important ministry on behalf of the persecuted church. May we pray for Tom White's family and VOM, regardless of what turn out to be the results of the investigation and the circumstances of his death.

(I will be away from my normal routine for about a week, so posts may be either nonexistent or few and far between.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'To See the King of Heaven Fall'

Stuart Townend is one of the church's foremost modern hymn writers. His songs are theologically rich. They beautifully and powerfully explain the gospel. They exalt Jesus. He has co-written with Keith Getty such songs as "In Christ Alone" and "The Power of the Cross." Among his solo compositions is "How Deep the Father's Love for Us." I had never heard this song -- "To See the King of Heaven Fall' -- until I ran across it last week. It is another profoundly expressed reminder of the great sacrifice our Savior made for us.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship

"Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song, the joy of my heart. and the boast of my tongue." That is the beginning of a wonderful old hymn by John Stocker, updated musically by Sandra McCracken, that our church has sung many times. How true those words should be! Where would we be without the mercy of God? Paul wrote about it this way: "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:4-6). Our salvation is the result of His mercy, not on the basis of anything we have done or ever would do. Our continuation in the Christian life is a result of His mercy. That is cause for celebration among sinners who have no hope without God's mercy. May we prepare to agree together in worship this Sunday that our God is a merciful God who deserves all the glory, praise, adoration, thanksgiving and submission we can give Him.

Renew: Our Affliction, His Grace (Part 2)

The Renew Conference, which I first blogged about Wednesday, focused on suffering and the gospel. Titled “Our Affliction, His Grace,” the weekend sessions featured some excellent speakers with gospel-based ministries, including D.A. Carson, Tullian Tchividjian, Joni Eareckson Tada and Byron Yawn.

The conference was much more than address after address, as significant as they were. There were some other touches that contributed to Renew’s excellence. Here are some of my observations on aspects of the conference.


Commendation and thanksgiving are in order for the decision to have lots of time for singing. A conference on suffering is a great opportunity to sing the praises of our sovereign and gracious God and to take heart in the truths we sing. Singing theologically robust, yet effectual, songs was a great idea.

Among the songs we sang, with the writers’ names, were:
-- “10,000 Reasons,” Matt Redman
-- “Bless Be Your Name,” Matt and Beth Redman
-- “Psalm 62,” Aaron Keyes and Stuart Townend
-- “How Great Is the Love,” Meredith Andrews and Paul Baloche
-- “Glorious and Mighty,” Joel Sczebel, Todd Twining and Bob Kauflin
-- “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” Thomas O. Chisholm and William M. Runyan
-- “Whom Have I in Heaven but Thee,” Billy Luz Sprague and Dave Durham
-- “I Have a Shelter,” Steve and Vikki Cook, Bob Kauflin
-- “I Will Praise Him Still,” Fernando Ortega
-- “Glorious Day,” Michael Bleaker, Mark Hall, J. Wilbur Chapman, Charles Marsh
-- “My Hope Is in You,” Aaron Shust
-- “When the Tears Fall,” Tim Hughes
Video testimonies

Members of the sponsoring church, Community Bible Church in Nashville, Tenn., shared testimonies via video of their suffering and God’s grace. Among them were: A former elder who has been afflicted with Parkinson’s disease for 28 years; a middle-aged widow; a mother whose twins died at birth, and a wife whose husband was unfaithful. In addition, Scott Willis shared in person about God’s mercy to his wife, Janet, and him in the aftermath of the deaths of their six youngest children in a fiery crash. These testimonies by Christians who have walked through severe trials or are still walking through such afflictions ministered to listeners and honored God.

Quotes worth remembering

Below are some of the many comments made by speakers that struck me as profound or important – and that I was able to write down or my vastly superior, note-taking wife was able to record. I did not attend the Sunday evening session. I had the pleasure of staying with our grandchildren at their home while the rest of the family attended. Therefore, I was unable to hear Joni Eareckson Tada speak. So I have no quotes to share from her. I might also say the shortage of quotes from a speaker does not mean his address lacked substance. It may partly mean my note taking was lacking. For instance, D.A. Carson spoke twice – delivering a big-picture view of suffering from Scripture and a powerful Sunday morning sermon on Lazarus and the rich man. His messages just didn’t lend themselves to brief pull quotes.
“The book of Job shows us that while God is good, He is not safe.” – Tullian Tchividjian

“Explanations are always a substitute for trust.” -- Tchividjian

“God’s answer to the why question is to point back to who [Himself].” -- Tchividjian

“While pain is real, it’s not random.” – Tchividjian

“His sovereignty is comprehensive. His sovereignty is sweet. . . . And His sovereignty is like a shock absorber to our pain.” – Tchividjian

“[Jesus] didn’t come to deliver us a divine self-help manual. Self-help was our problem.” – Tchividjian

“We are by nature works righteousness-addicted.” -- Tchividjian

“The gospel is about His performance for us, not our performance for Him.” – Tchividjian

“It’s not what you feel; it’s what you know.” – Gladene Senner (video testimony)

“God has no obligation to explain himself.” – Scott Willis

“Suffering is not a license to whine; suffering is a license to worship.” – Byron Yawn

“It’s not surprising that we suffer but that we suffer so little.” – D.A. Carson

“God’s sovereignty doesn’t mitigate man’s responsibility.” – Carson

“Idolatry is anything that de-Gods God.” – Carson

“The opposite of biblical justification is self-justification.” – Carson
Summary observations

Here are some truths I took away from Renew 2012:

1. God is sovereign over suffering.
This point came through repeatedly. It is a vital truth that holds much hope. Suffering is not without purpose. God is in control of it in our lives. God can be trusted. We may not know the why of suffering, but we can more intimately know Him as we walk with Him through our suffering.

2. Suffering is complicated.
As Tullian Tchividjian said, “When it comes to suffering, there are no pat answers.” The reasons human beings suffer are multiple and often unclear. We normally want to find an explanation for our suffering or that of others. In so doing, our thoughts about suffering become human-centered instead of God-centered. The book of Job is not about why but about who.

3. The “prosperity gospel” is powerless in the face of suffering.
The “prosperity gospel” was barely mentioned, but the conference’s biblical perspective on suffering drove home for me more than ever before its heresy and inadequacy. It is a false gospel. It is a human-centered gospel. It needs to be contradicted by faithful teachers and shunned by disciples of Christ.

4. The saints should mercifully love and care for those who are suffering.
As the church, we have the privilege and responsibility to walk beside, pray alongside, love and compassionately support each other as we suffer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Renew: Our Affliction, His Grace (Part 1)

I am late; really late; really, really late. Three of us from Covenant Community Church had the privilege of attending the Renew Conference Feb. 10-12 in Nashville, Tenn., and I have yet to report on it, as promised much earlier. So this is the first of at least a couple of posts on that event. This year's conference, titled "His Affliction, Our Grace," was on suffering and the gospel.

It was a great conference -- excellent speakers, encouraging and strong songs, effectual testimonies and warm fellowship with other saints. I will touch on some of those elements in a later post, but I want to use the rest of this post to quote from the opening comments of Byron Yawn, pastor of Community Bible Church, which sponsored the conference. I think they provide some important truths to consider when approaching the topic of suffering from a biblical perspective. Here is what he said in explaining the goal of this year's conference and what the organizers hoped not to do:
Our aim this weekend is:

To worship the Lord Jesus Christ and prove his worth (even if that means worshiping from a heap of ashes).

To demonstrate the power of the Gospel in all things (including inexplicable suffering and pain).

To deconstruct the version of Christianity which has our happiness as the chief goal (and supplant it with God’s glory which is our chief happiness).

To demolish our idols of comfort and ease (by smashing them with the infinite weight of Christ’s glory).

To tangibly love you (by touching your leprous spots with Christ through prayers and tears).

To humbly admit that the severest suffering we could know (was taken by our Savior on the Cross of Calvary).

To exuberantly pump our fists in the face of the devil (as we remind ourselves through song that Jesus crushed the serpent’s head).

What we hope not to do:

Not to give the false impression that suffering is unusual or avoidable (but that suffering is at the root of our faith and a rumor of that for which we have been redeemed).

Not to tell you that you’re stronger than you think you are (but that Christ is more sufficient than your weakness. When you are weak, He is strong.).

Not to tell you that you can beat this thing if you just believe (but that Jesus defeated what caused all this and you can believe in His life, death and the hole blown in the back of death by the resurrection).

Not to tell you that you will come out the other side of this a better person (but that you will come out the other side of this thing a better worshipper).

Not to tell you that you deserve to be happy because you are a child of God (but that you will never receive what you deserve because you are a child of God and this produces a peace which surpasses your happiness).

Not to tell you to avoid hard questions or that you should never question the goodness of God (but that you can trust His goodness even when you don’t get answers).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Got No Friends'

I hope to make "Mondays are for music" an at least semi-regular feature of this blog. The first video entry is "Got No Friends" by The Vespers. These four musicians are young -- 19 to 23 years of age -- and are Christians, though they are not part of the contemporary Christian music scene. Their songs often speak unashamedly of Jesus and their walk with Him. The young ladies, sisters Callie and Phoebe Cryar, are part of Community Bible Church in Nashville. The male group members are brothers Taylor and Bruno Jones. If you don't like roots music, you might still enjoy their infectious performances and their reminder of the Friend "who sticks closer than a brother." By the way, don't stop watching when there is a lull in the music. You will miss what I think is the best part of the song.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship

The kingship of Jesus is a consistent theme in Scripture. It is pointed to before and after His birth (Luke 1:30-33; Matt. 2:2). As recorded in the gospels, He spoke often during His public ministry of the kingdom of God -- a kingdom He would rule over. He will come to vanquish His foes bearing the title "King of Kings" (Rev. 19:16). There are many names, titles and attributes of our Lord and Savior we can ponder and proclaim when we gather as a church each week. May we not minimize or forget His kingship. He is a king like no other. He deserves allegiance, devotion, submission, worship and adoration no ruler of past, present or future comes anywhere close to deserving. May we gather this Sunday prepared to humble ourselves before Him as grateful subjects and citizens of His kingdom. He is King. There is no other.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Worshiping the Sun or the Son in North Korea

No regime on earth is more vicious toward Christians than North Korea. Open Doors USA, which ministers to the persecuted church overseas, has ranked North Korea as the No. 1 persecutor of Christians for the last several years. One religious liberty advocate has described this east Asian country as one gigantic concentration camp for all North Koreans except the elites.

This Sunday, April 15, will be the 100th birthday of the late Kim Il-Sung. Mass celebrations of the "Day of the Sun," as it has been titled, will be held. While North Korea's regime is communist, it also is built on cult worship of Kim and his descendants.

"For Christians inside North Korea their fear has increased as the government has mandated all the people to bow down to the gods of Kim Il-Sung, [his late son] Kim Jong-Il and [his grandson and new ruler] Kim Jong-Un and participate in the celebration," Open Doors President Carl Moeller said. "So scrutiny of the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 brave underground Christians has increased during the last few months. Some have been thrown into prison."

Moeller said, "But we know that the Christians living under the most brutal regime in the world will be celebrating the true 'Son' Jesus Christ in their hearts."

Open Doors is asking Christians around the world to pray for their brothers and sisters this Sunday. May we not forget those who are suffering solely because they have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

The video below, which is about 5 1/2 minutes long, is a CBN report that gives a helpful overview of conditions in North Korea. It also shares the story of a Christian who escaped the country and of her father's sacrificial commitment to Jesus.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

For your attention

1. Mapping religious identification in America -- This USA Today map of research by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows the breakdown by religious identification -- or nonreligious identification -- in every state. (HT: C. Ben Mitchell.)

2. The grave of a father and the resurrection -- On Easter, Nashville pastor Ray Ortlund writes lovingly and biblically about the death of his godly father and the resurrection to come.

3. Why is Christianity declining? -- Timothy Keller provides some thoughts on a soon-to-be-released book about the decline of Christianity in America.

4. Bubba Watson's evangelistic impulse -- Joe Carter provides a quick look at new Masters champion Bubba Watson and his desire to spread the gospel.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

T4G: 'The Underestimated Gospel'

Together for the Gospel begins this afternoon in Louisville, Ky. Our church's other two elders -- Carl Ericson and Mike Danaher -- will be among the 7,500-plus attending at the city's new downtown arena. By the time it closes Thursday night, they and the others in attendance will have heard powerful, gospel-focused teaching; sung some great songs of the faith; enjoyed times of meaningful fellowship, and picked up a lot of good books. They will hear not only from Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, David Platt and Keving DeYoung, but several other Christ-honoring men during panel discussions and breakout sessions. This year's theme is "The Underestimated Gospel."

It will be the first time I have not attended T4G, which is held every two years, since it began in 2006. I hope to catch some of it on video this week, and I encourage you to as well. Video and audio are to be posted daily here.

For those who are part of Covenant Community Church, please pray for Carl and Mike as they experience these days, and pray for our church as well. I believe our church will benefit from their participation, their growth and their teaching that results from the conference. I will. I appreciate their willingness to sacrifice their time and finances in a way that will bless our fellowship.

For all who read this, please pray for the conference and its impact on those attending and their churches. Most of the participants will be pastors and elders. May the gospel be embraced by many sinners and be cherished more by disciples of Christ as a result of this week's meeting.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship

We will gather this Sunday to celebrate the resurrection. It is something we do each Sunday as Covenant Community Church, because we dwell on the gospel. At the heart of the gospel is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Because tomorrow is Easter, our focus on Christ's resurrection will be even more pronounced. Without His resurrection, we are without hope. That is the point the apostle Paul makes in I Cor. 15:12-19. If Jesus were not raised from the dead, our "faith is worthless" and we are still in our sins, Paul writes. There is no hope for our resurrection. If Christ were not raised, what He said about Himself is not true; His sacrifice was not acceptable to His Father, the Holy Judge; He is not an all-sufficient Savior. He did rise from the dead, however, and in this we rejoice. His sacrifice was totally acceptable to God, and the resurrection was God's demonstration of its complete acceptability. For all those who place their faith in Jesus and His work, that faith will not go unrewarded. We have an unshakable confidence. We have a basis for joining together tomorrow to worship our God and His Christ.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Jesus' questions upon his arrest

There was so much packed into the last days of Jesus' public ministry that we remember this week, especially beginning the day before He was crucified.

It strikes me that some of Jesus' questions upon His arrest in the garden provide evidence of the betrayal, misunderstanding, mistreatment and loneliness He experienced as He allowed Himself to be delivered into the hands of men.

For instance:

-- To Judas: "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48)

-- To the crowd that came to arrest Him: "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me, as you would against a robber?" (Mark 14:48; cited also in Matthew and Luke)

-- To Peter after he cut off the ear of the high priest's slave: "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11)

-- To Peter on the same occasion: "Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" (Matt. 26:53-54)

Our Savior was a Suffering Servant who knew anguish we cannot fathom -- of which this human rejection was only a limited part.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The crucifixion: Divine sovereignty/human responsibility

Who sent Jesus to the cross? Who ordained, planned and enacted His crucifixion?

God. That is the unmistakable message of Scripture.

Yet, human beings acted to execute Christ. They called for His crucifixion; they condemned Him to crucifixion; they carried out the crucifixion.

Both divine sovereignty and human responsibility were manifested in the death of Jesus. That was the understanding of the apostles and Jesus' other early followers. Peter said so in his sermon on Pentecost. He said:
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know -- this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death (Acts 2:22-23).
The disciples said so in their prayer to God after Peter and John were released:
For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur (Acts 4:27-28).
We can rejoice in the God-man, Jesus, who gladly and sacrificially suffered at the hands of sinners to fulfill the Father's will.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Who is the Bible primarily about?

I believe the video below was posted to the blog when it was still part of the Covenant Community Church website, but our celebration of the resurrection is a good time to post it again. The images and music accompany an important message from Timothy Keller regarding what the Bible is basically about. It is less than four minutes in length and definitely worth viewing.

Monday, April 2, 2012

For your attention

1. A prayer for Monday of Holy Week -- Scotty Smith offers a prayer to Jesus that will bring your focus to the intentional suffering of our Savior as you prepare for Good Friday and Easter: "You knew what was coming."

2. Rescued by God -- and a different mom and dad -- Maggie Paulus writes beautifully and powerfully on the True Woman blog about her adoption as a "wee little thing" by a couple who made all the difference in her life and her adoption by God the Father. You should read this. Did I say you should read this -- with tissues nearby?

3. The lottery is 'spiritually suicidal' -- On the day of the drawing in the Mega Millions Lottery, John Piper gives seven reasons why Christians should not buy into the lottery.

4. Should Christians boycott Starbucks? -- No, Russell Moore says. He explains why in response to the National Organization for Marriage's promotion of a boycott for Starbucks' support of same-sex marriage.