Friday, December 22, 2006

Readings for Family Worship

Here's a list of the passages Gretchen and I will be reading for family worship over the next few days. They're adapted from the Revised Common Lectionary. The readings for December 22 and 23 are actually the readings for the 1st and 2nd Sundays of Advent. The hymn selections are my own. The "propers" for Christmas Day are to be read through the day - Proper I in the morning, II in the afternoon, and III in the evening. We've found these very useful. Maybe you will too.

December 22
Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Angels We Have Heard on High, #132

December 23
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Hymn: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, #128

Christmas Eve
Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Hymns: Thou Didst Leave They Throne #127, Silent Night #147, the Doxology

Christmas Day
Proper I

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

Proper II
Isaiah 62:6-12
Psalm 97
Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20

Proper III
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)
John 1:1-14

Hymns: Angels from the Realms of Glory #131, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing #133, What Child Is This? #137, O Come All Ye Faithful #145, O Holy Night! #145, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day #152, Away in a Manger #157, Rock of Ages #204, There Is a Redeemer #206

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"He will bring you down if he's going to use you."

I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow
By John Newton

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

"Lord, why is this," I trembling cried,
"Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?"
“Tis in this way," the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith.

"These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bible Marketing

THIS article from Wednesday's Wall Street Journal on the recent up-tick in Bible sales almost made me puke in my own mouth. Read the whole thing if you must, but do yourself a favor and go get a trash can first, in case you need to up-chuck. Thankfully, Crossway and the ESV fail to get a mention. Two of the more nauseating quotes:

"For a long time the Bible was just the Bible," noted Kevin O'Brien, director of Bibles at Tyndale House. "You put it out there and people bought it. They didn't ask about the options, because there weren't any options. But now, especially in evangelical circles, people are seeing their lives not just in color but high-definition color, and they want the Bible to fit in with that. This is not your mother's Bible."

"What people are saying is 'I want to find a Bible that is really me," noted Rodney Hatfield, a vice president of marketing at Thomas Nelson. "It's no different than with anything else in our culture."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christians Under the Influence (of Holy Scripture)

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:15-21

The Apostle teaches here that we ought to make the most of our lives (“redeeming the time”) by (1) “understanding what the will of the Lord is,” and (2) being “filled with the Spirit”. In short, we should understand God’s will and live under the influence of God’s will. God’s will is revealed in the Bible. So we’ve got to understand God’s word and live under the influence of God’s word. It should be the controlling factor in our lives.

This control is incomplete in all of us. We know and obey God’s word in some things, but not all things. We allow other factors to control how we live and act. By "controlling factor" I mean an idea that shapes behavior. This idea may be true or false, accurate or inaccurate, but it produces real behavior nonetheless. For example, if you hear on the weather report that the high for the day will be 19 degrees (as is the case here today), you will wear a sweater and corduroys or other warm clothing. The weather is then the controlling factor in your wardrobe choice. Fear, achievement, and selfishness are common controlling factors for many people .(There are many, many more.) Fear of rejection may cause someone to sin in order to gain acceptance from others. The need to achieve – to be the best – may cause someone to cheat or neglect other responsibilities to get ahead. Selfishness may cause someone to ignore the needs of others in order to please his/herself, or produce anger when he/she doesn’t get his/her way.

Furthermore, the Apostle tells us, a life controlled by the Spirit-inspired word of God produces several good results: (1) a heart of worship, v. 19; (2) a heart of thanksgiving and humble surrender to God, v. 20; and (3) a heart of glad submission to authority, v. 21.

Reflect then: What fear/ambition/selfishness, or other controlling factor, other than the word of God, is presently at work in your life? What sinful behavior(s) does this produce? What promise or truth from God can you claim in your fight against this false controlling factor?

Friday, December 01, 2006

What We Renounce

These days it seems Christians are mostly known for what they denounce - the things they're opposed to: embryonic stem cell research, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. Of course these are legitimate concerns which the Bible speaks to, and the Christian contribution to the national debate on these issues is as valuable as that of any other group. But if we're not careful, something very un-Christian begins to happen: We begin demanding our rights.

You see, according to the Bible, Christians should be best-known not for what they denounce, but for what they renounce - the rights they yield. Christians know, and we need to remind ourselves often, that the only thing anyone is really entitled to is death and punishment (Romans 3:23) because each of us is bad and we love to do bad things. This offends God who is perfectly holy and pure and has commanded us to be holy as well (1 Peter 1: 15-16). We Christians should not rush to demand what we deserve. A song by DEREK WEBB has a line that says, "I repent of living like I deserve anything."
Instead, we should be people known for sacrificial service and love to everyone - friend and foe alike. This means we yield up our rights to very specific things. Tom Harmon, the Christian preacher and evangelist, LISTS SOME OF THESE THINGS on his website. Here's the first ten, each backed up with Scripture:

  • THE RIGHT TO BE RIGHT. I Cor. 6:7&8, I Peter 2:19 & 3:14 & 17
  • THE RIGHT TO BE HEARD. I Peter 2:23 & 3:10-12, James 3:1-10
  • THE RIGHT TO NURSE MY HURTS. I Peter 5:7, Matt. 18:21& 22, Ps. 130:3
  • THE RIGHT TO LEISURE. Mark 6:30-33
  • THE RIGHT TO BE NEEDED. II Timothy 4:16 & 17, Psalms 8:3 & 4
  • THE RIGHT TO GOOD HEALTH. II Timothy 4:20, Job 2:10, I Peter 4:12 & 13
  • THE RIGHT TO FINANCIAL SECURITY. Acts 3:6, I Corinthians 9:16-18

  • The reason I am so often unhappy is that I tend to think I have a right to this-or-that, and when my expectations aren't met I get frustrated, or angry, or anxious, or bitter. Lord help me, and everyone who follows Jesus, to learn to lay down our rights and live on the strenght you provide, just as Jesus did:

    "But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:20-23)

    What I Said About Love and Forgiveness

    Here's the notes from the talk on forgiveness I gave Tuesday evening. I am learning a lot about loving and forgiving people these days. I learned a little more about it the same evening I gave this talk. I learned still more yesterday. I want to be a consistently gracious person because God is so unwaveringly gracious to me.

    Ephesians 1:7-10
    "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence,
    having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him."

    Every Sunday at about noon I walk into an area restaurant after church to have lunch with my family. I order food from the menu. By ordering it I become indebted to the restaurant. I owe the price of the food. But each Sunday I get up from my table and walk right out the door without paying what I owe. The hostess waves at me as I go. I tell the waiter I'll see him next week. No one minds that I don't pay what I owe. Does that sound extraordinary to you? Well, if you are here as a Christian tonight, you have had this same experience spiritually. That's what this passage teaches us. The rest of the story is this: I walk out without paying because my father-in-law always buys Sunday lunch. He is very generous. He pays what I owe, and my debt is forgiven. As Christians we are taught that what we owe has been forgiven by God because His Son has paid it for us:

    1. We owe God punishment and death because our sin has offended him and told lies about him, the only one who is good. ("The wages of sin is death.")
    1. We cannot not pay it off. The debt has been passed to us through Adam, and we have added to it all our lives, sin-by-sin. ("Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.")
    1. If you have not repented of your sins you still owe the debt. You remain under God's wrath. You must admit to God that you are bankrupt, that you have no resources of righteousness to pay the debt and that left to yourself you will only add to it. Ask him to apply Christ's payment to your account. He will do this eagerly and with pleasure, in keeping with "the riches of his grace". "By grace you are saved through faith."
    We Christians have been set free from a great debt, therefore we should extend this same forgiveness to others. ("forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave you.")

    If we delight in unforgiveness, if we are unwilling even to engage in the struggle to truly forgive, it may be that we have not been forgiven by God ourselves. God gives his children new capacities to love and forgive. We must each examine our hearts. ("Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That's what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.")

    Mending Wall

    By Robert Frost

    Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
    That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
    And spills the upper boulder in the sun,
    And make gaps even two can pass abreast.
    The work of hunters is another thing:
    I have come after them and made repair
    Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
    But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
    To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
    No one has seen them made or heard them made,
    But at spring mending-time we find them there,
    I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
    And on a day we meet to walk the line
    And set the wall between us once again.
    We keep the wall between us as we go.
    To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
    And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
    We have to use a spell to make them balance:
    "Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
    We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
    Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
    One on a side. It comes to little more:
    There where it is we do not need the wall:
    He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
    My apple trees will never get across
    And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
    He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
    Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
    If I could put a notion in his head:
    "Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
    Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
    Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
    What I was walling in or walling out,
    And to whom I was like to give offense.
    Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
    That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
    But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
    He said it for himself. I see him there,
    Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
    In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
    He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
    Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
    He will not go behind his father's saying,
    And he likes having thought of it so well
    He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

    Egocentrism is the Enemy of Love and Forgiveness

    I said to a friend recently, "My worldview is Theocentric not egocentric. God is at the center of all reality, not me. I must bend and shape my life around the fact that he is real and has a will for humans, revealed in the Bible."

    But through a series of recent experiences I've come to see that while I believe what I said to my friend propositionally - it's something that I know is really true - practically, I don't live like it most of the time. Mostly I live like I'm the center of the universe. Don Miller says it this way in Blue Like Jazz:

    "When you live on your own for years, you begin to think the world belongs to you. You begin to think all space is your space and all time is your time.
    "It is like in that movie About a Boy where Nick Hornby's chief character, played by Hugh Grant, believes that life is a play about himself, that all other characters are only acting minor roles in a story that centers around him. My life felt like that. Life was a story about me because I was in every scene. In fact, I was the only one in every scene. I was everywhere I went. If somebody walked into my scene, it would frustrate me because they were disrupting the general theme of the play, namely my comfort or glory. Other people were flat characters in my movie, lifeless characters. Sometimes I would have scenes with them, dialogue, and they would speak their lines, and I would speak mine. But the movie, the grand movie stretching from Adam to Antichrist, was about me. I wouldn't have told you that at the time, but that is the way I lived."

    I read that passage last night in the middle of a pity party I was hosting for myself. The party was going great until then. I wanted to throw the book across the room, because I had just given a talk on forgiveness earlier in the evening and now I was finding it hard to practice what I had preached. I'm working on a sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday, and I've been trying out some of the main ideas on the folks at the nursing home where a group of us minister on Tuesday evenings. The main idea was that Ephesians 1 says Christians have been forgiven a great debt by God, and then Ephesians 4 says we're to extend this same kind of generous forgiveness to one-another, even those who sin against us outrageously.

    So I've been thinking about love and forgiveness a lot lately, and I've realized I'm not a very forgiving person. I think maybe I've truly forgiven someone twice in my whole life. Because I think I'm the main character in the world, I think everyone else should be very cooperative, play their parts, and stay out of the way of the central drama. In essence I act like I'm God. I want people to say about me what I said to my friend about God: "Josh is at the center of all reality, not me. I must bend and shape my life around the fact that he is real and has a will for humans." Yikes.

    John Piper once said, "You do more to offend God in one day than will be done to you in your whole life." From this truth comes my motivation to aggressively love and forgive others. If I will meditate on how much I've been forgiven, what great harm I've done to God and his reputation by my sin, the lies my sin has told about him, I can lay hold on the grace (God-given desire and ability) to forgive others their much-lesser trespasses against me. If I delight in being forgiven I will delight in forgiving. I guess that's the lesson of Ephesians 4:32: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave you."

    O Father, may it be so, for your Name's sake!