Monday, May 28, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'There Is a Reason'

Alison Krauss and Union Station: This band is known for the wonderful voice of its lead singer and the craftsmanship of four other musicians who have all been members for more than a decade. The music might be classified as bluegrass with pop sensibilities. The band has recorded several songs with Christian themes and often includes them in their live performances. Ron Block, one of the band members, has written some of the best, especially "There Is a Reason," "In the Palm of Your Hand," "A Living Prayer" and "Jesus Help Me to Stand." Here is a 2011 performance of "There Is a Reason." (Ron Block is the guitarist wearing the hat.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship

Singing is part of the church's worship -- an important part. It functions on a number of levels. It can act as a declaration of who God is and what He has done. It can serve as a response to God's attributes and works. It can help us remember -- and teach each other -- biblical and theological realities. It can connect mind and heart, express truth and affections. It can comfort and challenge. It can glorify God, exalt Christ and preach the gospel. God's people have sung through the ages -- and will continue to do so. For instance, they sang when God delivered them through the Red Sea (Ex. 15). "Sing the glory of His name," the psalmist urged God's people (Ps. 66:2). Jesus sang with His disciples after the Lord's Supper, just before He headed to betrayal, arrest, torture and death (Matt. 26:30). Paul called for the saints to teach and admonish each other "with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Col. 3:16). Worshipers in Heaven will sing to the glory of God (Rev. 5:9, 15:3). We will sing again this Sunday. May we prepare our hearts and minds for this part of worship and the others we will participate in. May we use our voices to sing to God and to one another.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

For your attention

1. The mommy wars are over, and God won – Rachel Pieh Jones, who lives in Africa with her husband and children, writes from her cultural perspective in a gospel-focused way on the mommy wars, which were inflamed anew by Time magazine’s recent, controversial cover. This is great stuff – especially for mothers.

2. International adoptions have declined – International adoptions are at their lowest level in 15 years, but at least one of the reasons for that development is good: The attempt to eliminate corruption. This is an Associated Press article that looks at the situation.

3. ‘A nation of Osteens and Obamas’ -- Ross Douthat, columnist for The New York Times, analyzes the state of Christianity in the United States, especially with the decline of the institutional church, and its impact on American society. (I do not include Mormonism under the umbrella of Christianity, as he does in one sentence.)

4. Responding to homosexuality’s advance toward ‘the new normal’ -- Erik Raymond, a pastor in Omaha, Neb., suggests what our response as Christians should be to homosexuality’s campaign to be "the new normal."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why preach the gospel to yourself (No. 9)

'martino vs martinus' photo (c) 2007, spike - license: is another reason to preach the gospel to yourself as provided by Milton Vincent in his book A Gospel Primer for Christians. It is because, in doing so, I am "Stimulated to Love Others:"
When my mind is fixed on the gospel, I have ample stimulation to show God's love to other people. For I am always willing to show love to others when I am freshly mindful of the love that God has shown me. Also, the gospel gives me the wherewithal to give forgiving grace to those who have wronged me, for it reminds me daily of the forgiving grace that God is showing me.

Doing good and showing love to those who have wronged me is always the opposite of what my sinful flesh wants me to do. Nonetheless, when I remind myself of my sins against God and of His forgiving and generous grace toward me, I give the gospel an opportunity to reshape my perspective and to put me in a frame of mind wherein I actually desire to give this same grace to those who have wronged me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

'An enduring, permanent challenge'

I cited same-sex "marriage" during Sunday's sermon as a challenge to the evangelical church. With the growing pressure for societal and legal acceptance of marriage as including people of the same sex, we -- as the evangelical church -- must stand firmly for God's design for marriage while lovingly ministering to people gripped by homosexuality or buffeted by same-sex attractions. It may cost us financially. It may bring criticism, even hatred, from parts of our culture.

This video from Together for the Gospel 2012 features Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., interviewing Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, on the topic of same-sex "marriage." Mohler -- who describes it as "an enduring, permanent challenge" -- provides an excellent analysis of the biblical, ecclesiological, cultural and legal issues involved. He also has some important things to say about sexual sin and struggles among Christians. It is worth 25 minutes of your life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Something to think about: Church membership is 'a declaration of citizenship in Christ's kingdom'

Here is a quote from Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of 9Marks:
[W]hat is church membership?

Answer: It’s a declaration of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. It’s a passport. It’s an announcement made in the pressroom of Christ’s kingdom. It’s the declaration that a professing individual is an official, licensed, card-carrying, bona fide Jesus representative.

More concretely, church membership is a formal relationship between a local church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church.
(You may read the entire post here.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken'

Indelible Grace Music -- which had its origin in college campus ministry, especially Reformed University Fellowship -- serves the church by putting old hymns to new music. Our church has sung some of these reworked hymns. Indelible Grace has become identified with a collection of artists, including such musicians as Sandra McCracken and Matthew Smith. This video is from a hymn sing Indelible Grace had in 2010 at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry. Henry Lyte wrote "Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken" in 1824. You may read the lyrics here. The video, which features six artists singing a verse each of the song, is from a documentary made about Indelible Grace. As a result, it includes about 60 seconds of commentary. The song goes well with Luke 14:27 ("Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple"), which was in the passage I preached on yesterday.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship

In Isaiah 9:8 to 10:4, the prophet describes God's discipline of His obstinate people. Yet, Israel refuses to repent of its pride. In that passage, the prophet uses the same words four times to describe God's continued chastisement of His people at their failure to change. In 9:12, 17, 21 and 10:4, Isaiah says, "In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out." We will gather Sunday because God's anger toward us was poured out on someone else. As sinners, we deserve for His wrath to be poured out on us forever. Yet, another took our place. God the Son acted as our substitute. Though He was perfectly righteous, Jesus took our sin and our punishment upon Himself to glorify the Father and purchase a people. May we come rejoicing this Sunday to worship our great God and to exalt the One who suffered and died in our place.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

President Obama's new definition of marriage

The only surprise in President Obama's announcement yesterday of his support for same-sex "marriage" may have been its timing. His declaration that he believes marriage can be defined as a union of two people of the same sex only affirmed what his administration has been practicing. For instance, his Department of Justice had refused to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court and now is actually opposing it. DOMA is a 1996 law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman and protects states from being forced to recognize same-sex "marriages" performed in states where they are legal.

Nonetheless, the president's announcement -- as unsurprising as it is -- is a sad development, coming as it does from the leader of the free world in support of a radical reworking of the basic unit of society, one that was established by God thousands of years ago.

This development follows by only a day the 61 percent to 39 percent affirmation of the true definition of marriage by the voters of North Carolina. Thirty states now have approved such constitutional amendments. Yet, the drumbeat by some in society to normalize homosexual "marriage" continues.

Same-sex "marriage" is a challenge to marriage and the family as they have been understood. For instance, its legalization means more boys and girls will be growing up in homes without a father. Others will be reared in a home without a mother.

It also is a challenge to the church. Religious liberty and homosexual rights will clash on this issue and others -- and freedom of conscience will likely lose in many cases. Pastors and churches will need to stand strong under such a regime.

As I said in an earlier post, marriage is a gospel issue. You may review that post here.

I recommend two other posts published since the president's announcement. Kevin DeYoung gives five reasons here for why Christians should not quit on the same-sex "marriage" issue. Collin Hansen writes here about the advance of homosexual rights in our culture.

Pornography and gospel hope

There may be no greater struggle in the hearts of evangelical Christians, especially among men, than that with pornography. Our culture is so sexualized and pornography so readily available it is an ongoing battle for many -- if not most or all -- of us as male followers of Jesus to attain and maintain pure minds. It would be an issue without our cultural conditions, but those add to the difficulty. The pastor of biblical counseling with what I consider a wonderfully faithful church -- Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. -- recently said Internet porn is one of the leading issues he has to address, particularly in the lives of young men in the congregation. As men, the temptation to click on a provocative image or provocatively worded link on the Internet is constantly with us, with more temptation only a click away. A slip onto that slippery slope can be devastating. Many lives, marriages, families and testimonies have been wrecked because of this wicked counterfeit for God's design in sexuality.

Sadly, this is no longer just a male issue. Women increasingly are consuming porn and struggling with escaping its grip. A survey reported on the Family Safe Media website says one in three visitors to "adult" websites is a woman.

I plan to blog at various times on this issue in the weeks ahead. Prayer seems to be a good place to begin when confronting this problem. Below is a prayer by Scotty Smith, founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tenn., posted Nov. 12, 2011, on his blog at The Gospel Coalition website. He titled his post: "A Prayer About the Grip of Pornography and God's Grace." May reading his requests to God be an encouragement to those struggling with this sin. May we all pray for each other that we will not fall into this sin and for those who may already be experiencing this as a besetting sin.
"Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? . . . Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." Rom. 7:21-24, 8:1-2

Jesus, we’re stirred to pray today for friends, married and single, whose lives are being assaulted by the ravaging and enslaving grip of pornography. Only the gospel gives us a mercy large enough and a power great enough to bring hope and healing to those impacted by pornography. This is why we run to you today with grave concern, but also with great hope.

O Lord of resurrection and redemption, bring your grace and might to bear in stunning fashion, liberating fashion. Things impossible for us are more than possible for you. You have come to set captives free and to heal the brokenhearted. Pornography is creating an overabundance of both.

Jesus, for our friends somewhere in the pornography continuum of titillation to addiction, we ask you to reveal yourself in the deepest place of their hearts. We ask for the holy gift of godly sorrow, not the short-lived remorse of worldly sorrow. Only your non-condemning love can answer the cry, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Getting “busted” won’t be enough. They need a lot more than embarrassment and fear; they need contrition and hope. They need to see your beauty, Jesus. Only your beauty and bounty are sufficient for the guilt and shame created by the abuse of pornography. Where pornography has desensitized our friends, re-sensitize them so they can see and feel the horror of their entrapment and more so — much more so — the wonder of your deliverance.

For our friends who are married to someone in the talons of pornography, dear Jesus, theirs may be the greater pain and struggle. No one but you can help them with the anger, the disgust, the wounds, the shame, and the mistrust that goes with this story. Grant us grace and wisdom to walk with our friends who are right in the middle of this dark vortex. Show us how to validate their feelings without confirming hurt-driven conclusions. Bring patience and perspective, forbearance and faith.

Jesus, for those of us who know this issue isn’t just “out there” somewhere, for those of us who are sincerely praying for others while avoiding naming our own struggle with pornography, grant us grace to do the next right thing on the path to repentance, hope and healing. We don’t have to pretend and we dare not try to get free on our own.

Only you, Jesus, can bring a willingness to be honest and to hope again. Only you can rebuild the broken trust. Only you can heal the places in our hearts which have suffered the greatest violation and harm. Absolutely no one understands all this like you, Jesus, and absolutely no one can redeem these messes but you. So very Amen we pray, in your great and glorious name.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ian and Larissa: Their momentary marriage

I have already seen this video posted by various Facebook friends and on websites. It is worthy of nine minutes of your life. If you want to read John Piper's introduction to the video, you may do so here. Even more importantly, you can read Larissa's explanation of why they chose to get married here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

For your attention

1. Why moms should be Christ-centered, not child-centered – I read most of this blog post by Luma Simms in the May 6 sermon on Luke 14:25-26. I hope it will be helpful to mothers and families.

2. “Why I no longer say God didn’t cause this birth defect in my child” – Justin Taylor introduces a young pastor, Josh McPherson, and quotes from and links to his comments upon learning a second child of his has been diagnosed with spina bifida.

3. Reading fiction can be good for Christians – In an interview with Tim Challies, Russell Moore discusses the benefits to Christ’s followers of reading fiction, makes some recommendations and provides insights on establishing boundaries in reading.

4. Jon Will turns 40 – Columnist George Will writes poignantly and perceptively about his son, Jon, who turned 40 May 4. Jon has Down syndrome. Will’s essay, while not written as an explicit expression of a biblical worldview, provides insight on what it has been like for a boy/man with Down syndrome the last four decades.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Now Why This Fear'

Sovereign Grace Music -- based in Gaithersburg, Md., and soon to be moving to Louisville, Ky. -- has provided a great ministry to the church of Christ in recent years. The musicians affiliated with SGM have written and recorded songs that are theologically rich, gospel focused and Christ exalting. Our church has sung several of their songs in corporate worship. They also have rearranged some great, old hymns. One is performed in this video. The song is "Now Why This Fear," which was written originally under the title "From Whence This Fear and Unbelief?" by Augustus Toplady in 1772 and reworked by Doug Plank. You may read the lyrics of the updated version and the story behind it here. This video is from SGM's 2011 Worship God conference.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship

We will have the stunning privilege May 6 of gathering again on the first day of the week as the people of God to worship Him. He has created us -- and re-created us -- to worship Him, has made it possible for us to worship Him and has called us to worship Him. As those made into true worshipers by God's sovereign grace and Christ's perfectly sufficient work, we have no greater calling or responsibility than to worship the triune God in spirit and in truth. We are able to do this privately and in small groups throughout the week, but Sunday offers us the opportunity to do it as one body united by the gospel of Jesus. May we approach this special time focused on God's greatness and grace, exalting our Savior and exulting in His salvation. May our worship be as that of the apostle Paul, who declared to Timothy upon recalling God's mercy toward him: "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (I Tim. 1:17).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Something to think about: We 'try to take [H]is toys and run'

Here is a quote from The Explicit Gospel, the new book by Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Dallas:
The universe shudders in horror that we have this infinitely valuable, infinitely deep, infinitely rich, infinitely wise, infinitely loving God, and instead of pursuing him with steadfast passion and enthralled fury — instead of loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; instead of attributing to him glory and honor and praise and power and wisdom and strength — we just try to take his toys and run. It is still idolatry to want God for his benefits but not for himself.” (HT: Tony Reinke at the Desiring God blog)