Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Conflicting Feelings (John Newton)

I doubt a church could sing this poem very well, but like so many of Newton's works in the Olney Hymnal, this one stands as a brilliant little piece of easy poetry. Why is it we Christians can be so annoyingly inconsistent at times? Why is it I fail even after following Jesus for 32 years? 
Ah, it is a fallen and broken world in which we live. And we are broken, albeit "being fixed" kind of people. The battle with sin will end in the Great Day, not Tuesday. And that means there will be failures along the way.
On the one side, we feel like great victors over all. The next moment we lie to the little girl who opens the door for us. We are conflicted. One day we will be complete. Grace shall overcome at last...

Conflicting Feelings
Strange and mysterious is my life.
What opposites I feel within!
A stable peace, a constant strife;
The rule of grace, the power of sin:
Too often I am captive led,
Yet daily triumph in my Head.

I prize the privilege of prayer,
But oh! what backwardness to pray!
Though on the Lord I cast my care,
I feel its burden every day;
I seek His will in all I do,
Yet find my own is working too.

I call the promises my own,
And prize them more than mines of gold;
Yet though their sweetness I have known,
They leave me unimpressed and cold
One hour upon the truth I feed,
The next I know not what I read.

I love the holy day of rest,
When Jesus meets His gathered saints;
Sweet day, of all the week the best!
For its return my spirit pants:
Yet often, through my unbelief,
It proves a day of guilt and grief.

While on my Savior I rely,
I know my foes shall lose their aim,
And therefore dare their power defy,
Assured of conquest through His name,
But soon my confidence is slain,
And all my fears return again.

Thus different powers within me strive,
And grace and sin by turns prevail;
I grieve, rejoice, decline, revive,
And victory hangs in doubtful scale:
But Jesus has His promise passed,
That grace shall overcome at last.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Look Unto Jesus (Charles Spurgeon)

It is ever the Holy Spirit's work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan's work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. 
He insinuates, "Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus." All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that "Christ is all in all." 
Remember, therefore, 
  • it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee--it is Christ; 
  • it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee--it is Christ; 
  • it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument--it is Christ's blood and merits; 

  • look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; 
  • look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; 
  • look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. 

We shall never find happiness by looking at 
  • our prayers, 
  • our doings, 
  • or our feelings; 

it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. 

If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by "looking unto Jesus." 
Keep thine eye simply on him; 
  • let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; 
  • when thou wakest in the morning look to him; 
  • when thou liest down at night look to him. 

Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.
"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name."

(Adapted from Morning and Evening, June 28, Morning Reading)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Singing Heresy (Proving Once Again That, 'It's All in the Lyrics, Baby')

It happens with greater frequency than I care to admit. I will be singing some great song and let the mind drift a little, only to hear myself spouting off rank heresy. Usually, it is a rhyming miss.

‘And my (not, “Thy”) grace my need is meeting, 
As I trust in me (not, “Thee”), my Lord.’

Or, just a thoughtless gloss, like:

You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son 
And (should be, “Who”) drank the bitter cup reserved for me

In the first example, I am singing praises to myself. In the second, I am telling God the Father that He died on the cross. They may be mistakes, but in end I'm an idolator with Trinitarian confusion.

This would be funny if it were not for Jesus’ words in Matthew 12 where he warns, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak… (Matthew 12:36 ESV) primarily because all of these “careless” words flow right out of their heart (see verses 33-35). We must be thoughtful of what we sing.

This was all bought to mind this week because of my sister’s car. She is out of town and graciously loaned me her vehicle which comes well-equipped with satellite radio. As a kind of weird social experiment, I determined to listen to popular Christian music for the entire time I have her car. I am not sure I can do it anymore.

The amount of obscene, bad-pop-psychologized, man-centred, Christianeze sung to over-treated vocals is nothing short of stunning. Do people actually listen to this stuff?  What on earth does it mean?  I could not help but think of the thousands (millions) who will have to give an account for every song like this they have sung.  Perhaps mindlessly on the way to work trying to pump themselves up for another day at the office. Maybe waiting to pick up the kids from school. Every word, even the ones we borrow from others, we will be called to explain.

I want to repent of every heretical thing I have sung by gloss, distraction and laziness. But even more than that, I want to avoid like the plague any additional offences by singing the stuff of most modern “praise” music. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

GFC Speaks: How To Make Your TAG Great!

Last Sunday night I invited members to help me create a Top 10 list answering the question of how to make a Truth Application Group (TAG) great. We start TAG's this coming Sunday night, so I am publishing their list here for our mutual encouragement. I thought every one of these points was great! (Rotten members though, they wouldn't stop at 10...)

The Top 10 13 Ways to Make Your TAG GREAT!

1.              Arrive early.

2.              Decide right now to attend every single meeting.

3.              Participate in discussions.

4.              Sign up to bring refreshments and actually bring them.

5.              Be a proactive listener – don’t drift!

6.              Become genuinely interested in other people.

7.              Jot down prayer requests and actually pray.

8.              Be transparent and willing to share.

9.              Be specific when you answer questions, identify personal sins or give glory to God.

10.           Be in the Word during the week and stay engaged with the preached Word on Sunday morning.

11.           Think through your week and the discussion questions prior to arriving to your TAG.

12.           Consider how to make your Mini-TAG great.

13.           Don’t be afraid of the silence and be willing to embrace awkward moments for the Gospel’s sake.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Lean In

Much of this Christian life is made up of our responses to the obstacles God wisely puts in our path. Every athlete knows the value of resistance training. God graciously coaches spiritual endurance out of us by placing obstacles, weights, burdens, and difficulties in our path.

It seems with each obstacle there also appears a wide path of escape, at least what looks like escape. So, rather than lead an angry wife, a husband may swerve to the left down the path of silence, brooding and TV. Rather than submit to a floundering husband, a wife may swerve to the right and take charge of the chaos.

But each of these paths is either a dead end or a kind of service road running alongside the freeway. Either it ends in the crash and burn, or (even worse) it parallels the direction of the freeway of obedience, but with all the stops, turns, detours, and gaps or a frontage road. I say this is worse, as a man can look like he is walking with God on this road, but he is not.

Rather, he is playing a part. He is living “in his own strength” and doing all he can to keep up appearances. But his life lacks life and the happy gravitas of one who leans in to the endless grace of God. Like a city boy dressed up in farm clothes, he looks the part, but doesn’t smell like it.

I am that man far too often. The choice to remain on the narrow path and face the obstacle can seem like death. As you get older, it can seem like despair. “Really? We are back here again?” But I am sure many coaches have had to convince their athletes to fight through the benefits of repetition. “Really? Dead lifts again? Haven’t we been here before?” But the coach knows. Those muscles are not strong enough yet.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.(James 1:2-4 ESV)

I sometimes wonder if every person is always at a decision point in this regard? There is always some obstacle before them and they are always facing a choice - lean in or divert. I have known so very few who have lived long and stayed dependent. I have known many more who have gone a fair distance, but given in before the finish line.

I want to be a man who keeps looking every trial in the face, while taking every trial to the Face of the One who loves me and will give me grace to endure. 

If anyone is to be taken captive,to captivity he goes;if anyone is to be slain with the sword,with the sword must he be slain.Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.(Revelation 13:10 ESV)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Our Wednesday Night Church Service - Kids Programs and Prayer Meeting

A brother pastor asked me to describe our typical Wednesday service to him as he is planning to launch one in his church. I thought I might reply here as I am always glad to share the things we do and even happier to glean good ideas from others. Take a look at our plan and let me know how your church prays.

The goal of this time is to encourage the saints. So we generally sing 3-4 songs that remind us of the Gospel and what God has done for us in Christ.  We also read through books of the Bible (one chapter at a time). The reader is a man who is trained (or in training) who, once he completes the reading, gives us a two-minute devotional based on one of the verses from that text. There are multiple reasons this is limited to two minutes, including the fact that we have all the kids with us.
We also ask the children for prayer requests during this time. Generally this takes 3-5 minutes of responding to raised hands and jotting down how we can pray for them. The adults pray for these requests later in the evening.
Sometimes we add other components like small group prayer, testimonies, a special presentation of some sort. We think of this service as something akin to a really great family meeting. We want it to be encouraging, enjoyable and Godward. I want the guy who is faithfully slugging out in a difficult work environment to look forward to getting his family to church on Wednesday because he knows he is going to be encouraged.
After a short prayer we all disperse to our different activities. 

7:30-8:45 Adults
The adults head to a room to spend the next hour in prayer. We do not really teach in our prayer meeting. We may look at a text of Scripture to help fuel our arguments in prayer, and take some specific requests for prayer, but our goal is to actually pray for a good 50-60 minutes. (For an idea of how we pray, see the “Prayer Sheet” at the bottom of this article.)
Due to the size of our prayer meeting we often have to divide the group into two.

7:30-8:45 Kids and Youth
The children and youth are divided into age-appropriate classes where they receive instruction in the Word (we currently use materials from Children Desiring God and The Gospel Project) and have a time of play in the gym. Through the years I have been the main proponent of play and some day I should write a post on why I think there is spiritual benefit to the church when it is encouraged.

Everything is done by 8:45 so that the parents with little kids can get them home and to bed and prepare for the rest of the week that we just disrupted with our late night! That said, there are generally many people here until well past ten. I stay behind to meet with a group of men I am mentoring.

Prayer Sheet
On the back of our song sheet is condensed listing of these requests:

Church Family
  • we rotate through the list of members, praying for 16 a week

GraceKids Class
  • we rotate through each of the classes and pray for all the children in the class by name

  • we use Operation World and pray for whatever country falls on the date of our prayer meeting
  • we summarize a few key points for prayer and give a little data on the country

  • we pray for all the elected officials of our area from city councillors to our Prime Minister (one per week)

  • we pray for two area churches each week
  • when we are on our "A" Game we contact that church for prayer requests earlier in the week

Auxiliary Ministries
  • we have two ministries outside of our church that we support financially and we pray for one of them every week

  • we significantly support two missionaries and pray for one of them each week

Church Ministries
  • we rotate through a list of all our church ministries and pray for several of them each week

  • we pray about what was preached the previous Sunday, asking God to help that truth take root
  • we also pray for the preaching of the coming Sunday

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Not all elders are Elders (but, a wise pastor still listens carefully to them)

My old friend, Hill, left this earth a couple of weeks ago. I will miss him a lot. 

Hill became my friend as an older man. I was privileged to sing him a silly song I wrote when he turned 85 and I was honoured to pray with him in the hospital when he was 90 and preparing for glory.

He was saved a little later in life, even though that life had been spent almost entirely in the church. A keen observer of people, he was always more aware than he let on of what was going on around him.  After I had known him a few years, I began to seek his opinion on lots of things. He had a good eye for future pastors in our church and sharp radar for the snakes. He had a sense of church life and could tell when things were growing stagnant or spiritually dull. His powers of deduction were not perfect, but they were helpful to me on more than a few occasions.

I have been thinking a lot about him and his influence on me over the last few days. Hill taught me that unique place that older saints can hold in a church. At 90 years old, he had been around the block a few times. And each time he picked up another lesson, another observation or another skill. A Christian that faithfully reads His Bible, prays for his church, attends that church and serves in her is getting an education in ecclesiastical affairs. A young pastor ought to pray that God fills up his church with some of these wise and watchful saints for they will help him to steer the ship more steadily. 

Hill was past the years of effectively serving as an Elder in the church - that is, bearing the office of Elder/Pastor/Shepherd/Bishop/Overseer/Steward. And some of his doctrinal convictions would have made him serving at this church a little difficult - he did love some odd duck TV preachers! But, his faithfulness to God over many years made him one of our sages. He was a man who helped this church from behind the scenes. He was like one of the elders of long ago who sat at the city gate and could be appealed to for practical wisdom and good advice.

All this to say, if your ministry goal as a pastor is to funnel old people to the fringes so they don’t "get in the way of what God is doing…" well, you ought to re-think that. 

“You shall stand up before the grey head and honour the face of an old man, 
and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD."

(Leviticus 19:32 ESV)

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

No Week of Prayer? Really?

I often wonder how churches survive without a Week of Prayer. It is, for me, the highlight of our church year. What can be better than seeking God with all your friends every night of the week?
And how can any church move forward into a New Year with any spiritual confidence if they have not sought God?

I am too old to think that a “Week of Prayer” is the only way to pray. And I fully believe each church is capable of pursuing intimacy and dependence on God in its own way. What I cannot conceive of is a prayerless church.
So far we have spent one night in confession of sin and the second in thanksgiving. My heart is bursting with praise to God after these two nights and I can hardly wait for tonight to come when we will ask God to save every unconverted person we can think of. And why not? He is the greatest good in the universe and to know Him is to know joy to the uttermost. We want every person in the world to know Him.
If you are one of the very few members of Grace Fellowship Church who has not been able to make it out to one of these nights yet, then clear your calendar and get in here. Don’t miss what God is doing.

Monday, January 05, 2015

How to Pray in a Week of Prayer

This is our Week of Prayer at Grace Fellowship Church, pretty much my favourite week of the year! Last night I sought to encourage our church family with five ways to pray this week. Today, I will share them with you.

1. Pray like God is listening.

I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
(Psalm 116:1-3 ESV)

God hears everything since He is everywhere and knows all, but He cups His ear to the prayers of His saints. He bends over His ear to hear our requests. So, when we pray, we ought to pray believing that He hears.  The King of All is is giving you all His attention.

2. Pray like God can do something.

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
(James 5:17-18 ESV)

Elijah was a redeemed sinner just like you. He was frail and failed. He had weaknesses. He was not superman! Yet, his prayer was the "prayer of faith." God did something in response to his requests.

God is listening and God can do something.

3. Pray like God loves you.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah
(Psalm 62:8 ESV)

David commands us to empty our personal vault of needs to God and we do this because this God loves us. you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
(Psalm 62:12 ESV)

God loves you! He is wiser than your dad, more patient than your mother, more interested in you than your best friend and He will listen longer than your online audience. Pray like He loves you.

4. Pray like the success of everything depends on it.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
(Colossians 4:2-4 ESV)

Isn't it amazing that Paul, the man who wrote Romans, the man of such great brilliance and oratory skill, asked other Christians to pray for him. If Paul needed God's help, so do we.

The point is not the "week" of prayer; the point is that the "weak" need to pray. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

5. Pray like persistence pays off.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
(Luke 18:1-8 ESV)

If persistence works on a godless, self-reliant judge, what might it do on a righteous, loving Father!? Our problem is not that we ask God for too much, but that we do not ask of Him enough. We have things we need from God and only the persistent in prayer will prevail.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pastor Paul’s Bible Reading Program

With the New Year approaching it seems like a good time to promote a Bible reading program I have used for a few years now. I have tried many reading programs in my life including the Robert Murray M’Cheyne calendar and Professor Horner’s system. I found both of these helpful, but a little overwhelming. The pace of these programs was like an invitation to failure. I couldn’t keep up. I wanted to enjoy the Lord as I read His Word, not worry about falling behind and blowing the system.

So, I thought through the Bible as a whole and determined to read from each of these five broad categories all the time: Gospels, Pentateuch, History/Prophets, Wisdom and Letters. I made it my goal to read five chapters a day, five days per week. One chapter from each section. And I really liked it!

Here is how things break down.

Gospels - 89 chapters

Pentateuch - 187 chapters

History/Prophets - 499 chapters

Wisdom - 243 chapters

Letters - 171 chapters

If you read five chapters, five times a week for a year here is what you will cover in those 260 readings.
  • You will read the Gospels 2.9 times in a year.
  • You will read the Pentateuch 1.4 times in a year.
  • You will read the History and Prophetic books 1.04 times in two years.
  • You will read the Wisdom literature 1.07 times in a year.
  • You will read the Letters 1.5 times in a year.

As you can see, it is not a perfect system that gets you through the whole Bible in a year, but it is surprising how much you can read if you just stick to it. Plus, if you read more than five times a week, you will end up reading a lot more of the Bible every year.

To help you find your place every day, I have made up five bookmarks you can print off and cut to place in the appropriate section. You can get those here. (You can see a picture of them above.)


Why is this a good system?
The biggest advantage to this method is that you are reading in one of the five major genres of the Bible all the time. And it is amazing to see how things connect. You will start to see things you have never seen before if for no other than reason than you cannot remember what you read in Leviticus seven months ago. Christians need to see how their whole Bible fits together.

Who can do this?
In my church I know of one octogenarian, many adults of various reading ability and a bunch of kids who stick to the program. Anybody can do this.

How fast do you read?
The idea of this kind of reading is not to linger long over every word. There is a place for that kind of  meditative reading, but I do not think this is it. I aim to read at a normal pace and have one goal in mind: to meet with God. I stop when I find something that resonates with my own heart and write it down. All told, this usually takes me between 15-30 minutes. I like to read in the mornings prior to family devotions.

What if you really like to read slowly?
Well, that is fine. But I would challenge you to read at this pace for a while. Plus, with two “bonus days” every week, you can always go back and meditate on those passages that have piqued your interest. I often do this on Saturday and Sunday as a kind of incentive to keep at it the rest of the week.

Do you think the history and prophetic books are less important?
Because it takes nearly two years to read through this section, some have wondered if I think less of that part of the Bible. Hardly! Part of the rationale for this longer section is that there is some repetition especially in books like Chronicles and Kings. Also, so much of the prophetic work belongs with the history that I like to keep them together.

Why do you read the Gospels so much?
Jesus is the answer to everything. The whole Bible is about Him. So, I think it is great to be reading about Him over and over again. Having been on this system and one similar to it for nearly 8 years now, I can attest to never being bored with Jesus.

Is this all you do for “devotions?”
I like to read in the mornings and then journal a few verses. “Journaling” for me is usually copying out various verses that have stood out to me and then jotting down some reflections based on them. I often include a written prayer. These two little actions help to focus my wandering mind. I believe I exist to delight in God to the glory of God for the good of all people. So, my aim in this time is to find my happiness in God. I need Him and He has promised to reveal Himself to me in His Word.

What’s with the bookmarks?
When I tried Professor Horner’s ten chapters a day program I had to make bookmarks to remind me where I was in my reading schedule. You could use a piece of paper and tick off little boxes, but you risk losing the paper. I like my bookmarks! They include all the books of that section and keep everything organized right in your Bible. I am all about removing all my excuses.

What do I do if I miss a reading or partially complete it?
Here is what I love about this program. It does not matter that you missed. Just pick up where you left off last time. That way, if you are suddenly interrupted one morning by a sick kid, your whole program is not off the rails. Even if you read perfectly you will eventually find the chapters do not match each time through due to the different size of each section. This lack of consistent correspondence is partly what makes the method so interesting. It will amaze you to see how much of Bible relates to all its other parts.

Got any ideas on how to improve this system? Leave a comment below!