Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Face Only A Mother Could Love.

Wendy is now in the eighteenth (18) week of her pregnancy and so far everything looks good, except maybe for the baby’s facial profile. (Yes, the baby DOES look like a vampire!). This past Friday we experienced the joy of seeing “Ellie” for the first time. We are most grateful to report that she appears to be developing normally and according to schedule. Sitting in the darkened room with Calvin on my lap and watching the small ultra sound screen as the tech scanned Wendy’s tummy, I was again confronted with the mystery and wonder of new life. I admit that I could not, and cannot fully grasp the miracle that was before me on the screen – a fully formed, four chamber heart, a perfect spinal cord, limbs, fingers and toes, and if the baby is a she, already there are over 6 million eggs deposited in her ovaries – a lifetime supply stockpiled for the start of a new generation one day! As I reflected on the miracle before me, my thoughts though were drawn to something far greater, even more profound and wonderful – God himself. How wise He must be to have created life with all of its’ delicate intricacies, how good must he be that He allows us to enjoy the unspeakable delights of his creation, and how merciful must He be in patiently putting up with a world of men that spurns the life He creates by ruthlessly destroying it in its’ most vulnerable state? Not only did I see God today, but I also felt the weight of His glory pressing down on my heart. As wonderful as Ellie is, she does not, nor can she ever compare to the gracious God who loved me and gave himself for me. May this redeeming God enrapture your heart and mind this evening as you contemplate His beauty and saving grace.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A BIG Post For A BIG Topic:)

Did you notice Time magazine’s cover story this week? The lead story focused on Mother Teresa’s “faith” or absence thereof. Though both interesting and sad, the main reason for familiarizing yourself with this article is so that you will have a point of contact in communicating the gospel with your unsaved Catholic friends. The following excerpt provides the gist of the story.,8599,1655415,00.html)
… Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she (Mother Teresa) wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.And in fact, that appears to be the case. A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist." That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'" Says the Rev. James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America and the author of My Life with the Saints, a book that dealt with far briefer reports in 2003 of Teresa's doubts: "I've never read a saint's life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was that tormented." Recalls Kolodiejchuk, Come Be My Light's editor: "I read one letter to the Sisters [of Teresa's Missionaries of Charity], and their mouths just dropped open. It will give a whole new dimension to the way people understand her."The book is hardly the work of some antireligious investigative reporter who Dumpster-dived for Teresa's correspondence. Kolodiejchuk, a senior Missionaries of Charity member, is her postulator, responsible for petitioning for her sainthood and collecting the supporting materials. (Thus far she has been beatified; the next step is canonization.) The letters in the book were gathered as part of that process.
(Just so you know, the official stance of the Roman Catholic church on these “dark letters” as they are called, is that they are just further proof of her great “faith.” The “faith” they speak of is her perseverance in her work Christ over the course of 50 years, despite her intense personal doubt and spiritual deadness. How could she not be a woman of great “faith?” )
Just a few quick thoughts on this for you to think about. First the faith spoken of is different than the faith spoken of in the Bible. Bible faith is faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ; it is not a “blind” faith (I hope so), or a confidence in something we are or may have once done. Bible faith is the firm assurance that Jesus Christ did come, has died, is now risen and ever lives to give eternal life to all who come to him, trusting him alone for forgiveness and eternal life through faith (Heb 9).Second, there is the dangerous possibility of being religious and yet not being right (or righteous) with God. This was the case with the many of the leading religious figures in Jesus’ day; they honored him with their lips, but their hearts were far from him, and in vain they worshipped him, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Matt 15:8-9). Being a Christian is not about a religion, it is about a relationship. I fear that Mother Teresa was so close, and yet so very far away.Thirdly, her example supports the Bible truth that no amount of good works or personal sacrifice can ever secure God’s favor, not now, and not later after we die. The Roman Catholic church teaches that salvation is by faith PLUS works, or to say it another way, a person is infused with righteousness by “believing in God” AND by performing good deeds or works. The Bible however is clear on this point, man is justified (declared righteous, made righteous) apart from the works of the law (Rm 3:28) and that perfect and complete righteousness comes through faith alone in the finished work of Christ (Rm 3:22).One of the pesky problems that arises out of a theology of faith PLUS works is the problem of doubt, because it is impossible to know how much one must do before God becomes appeased and satisfied with you. Therefore doubt is something Catholics must live with and accept; it is just part of living the “faith” life. Some good questions we could ask ask our Catholic friends that might cause them to see the folly of accepting doubt as part of their “faith” would be: if Mother Teresa died not knowing that she was right with God, after all that she did over 50 plus years, is there then even the possibility of earning God’s favor through good works? Is it reasonable to think that anyone might succeed where she has failed? Is this (Mother Teresa’s) the kind of relationship that you think God desires with those whom he made for the express purpose of fellowship? Is it possible to know for sure that you are right with God?Of course the Bible has a whole lot to say about these questions which you should spend some time looking them up. One passage for sure would be Romans 5:1-2 which reads: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we EXULT in hope of the glory of God!”

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Spoils of Victory

In many ways Christians are like the soldiers of WWII who were in Europe when Germany surrendered and yet had to remain several months longer for the purpose of establishing the peace. For Christians, the battle has been decided – decisively, and our mission is to now preach the peace that has resulted. We should not go about our mission discouraged and dejected as if defeated, but joyously because of the knowledge of Christ’s victory over the world, sin and Satan. Yes, there are still pockets of resistance and there is much work to be done before we go home, but our attitude is constantly one of great joy, immense gratitude and unceasing praise knowing that the victory is sure in Christ.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.(Eph 1:16-23)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Two Sites Worth Your Time...

It seems that everybody has a "good" book "you should read!" Some actually turn out to be winners while others, know how it goes:) With that caution in mind I would like to recommend to you two "good" web blogs "you should read." The first is actually just a single post by Pastor John Piper. The second is a site containing numerous posts that will both tickle and inform your mind. Let me know what you think of both sometime, and enjoy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I Saw God Today

I saw God today. And I heard him. Today at the Tunkhannock Geisinger Medical building God was unmistakably present in the examination room where we quietly sat as our obstetrician, Dr. Wetzel, scanned Wendy’s uterus with a small, black, hand-held doppler. He quickly came across a rapid swishing sound, the kind of sound you hear when you swish with mouth wash. The strong, rapid swish we heard was the heartbeat of a 12 week old baby, or Ellie as we call her (we think it’s a girlJ). Ellie’s heart actually started fluttering when she was just 4 weeks old, when she was about the size of a lentil bean. Ellie is now about 2.5 inches long, or as one site describes it, she would fit snuggly on a soup spoon. In fact all of her vital organs and structures are already in place. She has all the same components that you and I have at just 10 weeks! As I sat there I reflected upon the mysterious wonder of life that we so often dismiss as ordinary because it is so common place. How something so intricately perfect, begins and grows unaided by any outside human help into a mature person, is incomprehensible to my finite mind. The only rational explanation is that God himself is present in a small way,there in Wendy’s womb, creating, forming, sustaining, and gracing his new creation with mercy and love. As amazing and wonderful as the physical creation and birth is, the Bible tells us of something even more amazing and gracious – the new spiritual creation and birth known as regeneration. In 2 Timothy 1:9 God provides us with something similar to a doppler scan of that spiritual birth: “(God) who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.” Notice that it was God who did the creating and calling forth into life, it was based solely upon his good pleasure and not our works, and made possible by the sacrifice of his son in our behalf. And most incomprehensible of all – it was from all eternity. May these wonders drive us to worship today.

Friday, June 15, 2007

On Experience in Worship

Here's the quote that was in last week's worship folder from Bob Kauflin on experience in worship:
“As I paged through a Christian magazine last year, I noticed one add for a new worship CD mentioned ‘experience’ six times. We all love ‘worship experiences’ with God. Experiences aren’t evil. But the concept of worship as an ‘experience’ is fairly foreign to Scripture. I say ‘fairly’ because there are times when worshipping God was definitely an experience! [II Chronicles 5.11-14; Acts 4.31; I Corinthians 14.24-25] However, the goal of gathering as God’s people is not to feel something but to see and remember something. That ‘something’ is the Word, works, and worthiness of God, especially as He has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. [II Corinthians 4.6] If I pursue goose bumps or heightened emotion during a meeting, God becomes simply one of numerous options I can choose to seek them from. This doesn’t minimize the importance of pursuing encounters with the living God characterized by profound emotion and awareness of the Holy Spirit’s active presence. Scripture is filled with examples of longing for, pursuing, and delighting in God’s presence. [Psalm 84.1-2; I Chronicles 16.11; Psalm 16.11] But I become aware of God’s nearness by dwelling on His nature, promises, acts, not by pursuing an emotional fix.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Mark Driscoll, in his book Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out, asks his readers to see that Jesus has called us to:1. The Gospel [loving our Lord]2. The Culture [loving our neighbor]3. The Church [loving our brother]Driscoll continues: "When we fail to love our Lord, neighbor, and brother simultaneously, we bury our mission in one of three holes." Driscoll's three holes are:1. Parachurch2. Liberalism3. FundamentalismGospel+Culture-Church= Parachurch"The success of these ministries [he mentions Campus Crusade for Christ, perhaps Bible Colleges] is due in large part to their involvement in culture and loving people, whereas the church often functions as an irrelevant subculture." Driscoll believes that spiritual immaturity is the result of an often generationally connected group of people disconnected from the rich tapestry of generations found in the local church. He concludes, Parachruch Christians tend to love the Lord and love its neighbors, but not to love its brothers."Culture+Church-Gospel= LiberalismThis sort of hole is dying in mainline denominational churches. The liberal church is "so concerned with being culturally relevant, though they are deeply involved in the culture, they neglect the gospel. In their desire for relevance, the liberal church has become irrelevant by having nothing to say to the culture that the culture could not say to itself without the church.Driscoll writes, "Their failure is that they bring to the culture a false gospel of accommodation, rather than confrontation, by seeking to bless people as they are rather than calling them to a repentant faith that transforms them." Liberal Christians risk loving their neighbors and theiPick up Driscoll's book and give it a read. Driscoll is sometimes edgy; however he's thoroughly orthodox. He's giving the emergent church fits because he's proved that Reformission is reaching out without selling out.r brothers at the expense of loving their Lord.Church+Gospel-Culture=FundamentalismDriscoll writes, "The success of these churches lies in that they love the church and often love the people in the church. Their failure is that . . . pastors at these churches are prone to speak about the needs of the church, focusing on building up its people and keeping them from sinning . . . Over time, they can become so inwardly focused that the gospel is replaced with rules supported with mere prooftexts from the Bible. Fundamentalist Christians are commonly found to love their Lord and their brothers, but not their neighbors."Pick up Driscoll's book and give it a read. Driscoll is sometimes edgy; however he's thoroughly orthodox. He's showing the emergent church that Reformission can reach out without selling out.

Monday, June 11, 2007

On the Road

I've been on the road for the past week, visiting my our son Adam, his wife Stephanie, and little Adelyn and Elizabeth - now that is real R & R.In the photo above, our son Adam is in the middle holding on to Adelyn, Anita has little Elizabeth, and I have Hezekiah. We took this photo when we were on vacation back in March. Tomorrow I travel to Ashland Seminary for a workshop with Hebrew profs from all over the world. We are trying to find better ways to teach first year Hebrew by using proven techniques from Second Language Acquisition models. Any project that makes the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible, more accessible is worth the time. Until believers are better grounded in the Bible, they will be susceptible "to every wind of doctrine and sleight of men."Lord willing, I will be back in the area on Friday afternoon. If you need me, I still have my cell phone and, of course, email, email, email :-)Posted Monday, June 11, by Pastor Smith

Eating Solo at Armetta's

Compared with hanging out at Armetta’s after prayer meeting with some of you guys, eating alone at Armettas on Saturday night was a rather solitary adventure. Connie and our kids went to Dorney Park with another mom and her kids, which left me with a “hankering” hunger for some wings. Even the waitress who normally helps us on Wednesday's remarked, "You sure like wings, don't you?"
So what do you do when you forget to bring a book into the restaurant to look busy while you're waiting for your food? Well, I played Galaga on my cell phone [destroy the Arminians!], and took a picture of my Pepsi glass with an empty chair in the background to visually capture the solitude.
It just reminded me that fellowship is a joyful ingredient of our church. I was again reminded yesterday of the joy of Christian fellowship. Our family, Janet and Howard, Jeremy K., Jan, Kevin, and Brianna Wells ate lunch together at Colarusso's. I left a worship folder with a little note on it for Tara, our waitress. Pray that she might desire to visit us.
A likemindedness of doctrine has been the foundation for some of the sweetest fellowship our family has experienced at a local church. Thanks for the sweet communion of the saints!“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2.42 ESV

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Treasuring the letters of a Scottish Preacher

I'm convinced that the letters of Samuel Rutherford [1600?-1661] are some of the smartest, sweetest, and perhaps overlooked treasures available to the 21st century church.
There are 365 letters in the Banner of Truth reprint [2006]. You could spend a year with a great preacher.
In his 2nd letter entitled, To a Christian Gentlewoman on the death of her daughter, Rutherford writes:
"Do you think her lost, when she is but sleeping in the bosom of the Almighty? Think her not absent who is in such a friend's house. Is she lost to you who is found to Christ? If she were with a dear friend, although you should never see her again, your care for her would be but small. Oh, now, is she not with a dear friend? And gone higher, upon a certain hope that ye shall, in the Resurrection, see her again, when [be ye sure] she shall never be hectic ['of relating to a fever' or 'flushed'] nor consumed in body."
Here's a link where you can order the letters. They're worth the wade.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The end of the story is like its beginning

As Adam Miller was publicly reading Revelation 22 this morning, I saw again that the end of the story of the Bible [recreation] is like its beginning [creation] -- only better in Christ. 1. We begin with creation. [Genesis 1.1] We end with recreation. [Revelation 21.1]2. We begin with darkness over the face of the deep. [Genesis 1.2]We end with no need of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. [Revelation 22.5]3. We begin with a river flowing out of Eden. [Genesis 2.10]We end with a river of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. [Revelation 22.1-2]4. We begin with a serpent. [Genesis 3.1]We end with the Serpent-crusher. [Revelation 22.21]5. We begin with the first man Adam's sin. [Genesis 3.6-7]We end with the second man Adam's salvation. [Revelation 22.14] 6. We begin with sin's curse. [Genesis 3. 14-19]We end in a place where no longer will there be anything accursed. [Revelation 22.15]7. We begin with God driving the man from the garden. [Genesis 3.23]We end with the Spirit and the Bride saying, "Come." [Revelation 22.17]8. We begin with the tree of life guarded by a cherubim and flaming sword. [Genesis 3.24]We end with the tree of life with 12 kinds of fruit, its leaves for the healing of the nations. [Revelation 22.2]9. We begin with the destruction of the world. [Genesis 7.11-12]We end with the construction of the new world. [Revelation 22.3]

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Satisfied and Excited

It's 11:47 p.m. I've just put the finishing touches on tomorrow's worship folders. Although it's late, my heart is light with the satisfaction and excitement of having shared our Church with others in Newton this morning.Pastor is right. It is fun to be able tell someone else about what God is doing at Grace. The joy is in the sharing. God will give the increase. In fact, he may give us increase in ways we don't expect as we patiently tell others that God has raised up a local church for the praise of His glory in Newton, PA.It was also a great time of fellowship with Luke and Pastor Ben. Yes, we made it all the way to the end of School Street.I look forward to the Lord's table tomorrow morning. My prayer is that I will come hungry and thirsty for spiritual meat and drink. Jesus is our Passover Lamb. I love the line we'll sing in the morning from the hymn Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent:"Lord of lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood, / He will give to all the faithful his own self for heav'nly food."See you tomorrow!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Velvet Elvis and "Heavy Petting" with Heresy

Wow! It's really crazy that today's evangelical church, instead of lamenting and repenting its abandonment of Scripture, continues to flirt with heresy -- that ancient, painted prostitute who in the shadows looks young and inviting but laughs the morning after at the disease the church has contracted from her.Notice how Rob Bell in his recent book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith [2005], playfully questions the necessity of the Virgin Birth while personally affirming its validity [Bell compares Biblical doctrines with the metaphor of springs underneath a trampoline]:"What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry's tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if as you study the origin of the word virgin, you discover that the word virgin in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word virgin could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being 'born of a virgin' also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring was seriously questioned? Could a person keep jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?" [pp. 26-27]This is really nothing more than "heavy petting" with heresy. Innocently maintaining that you haven't "gone all the way" won't hide the fact that the perfumed bed is only inches away.Paul, at the end of his grand systematic theology, says it this way to his brothers and sisters in Rome:"I appeal to you brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive." Romans 16. 17-18

Saturday, May 12, 2007

1 Corinthians 9:1

Someone in our church found out that our financial situation (Anita and I) would be unusually tight this summer; we'll be between salaries for two months, insurance costs involving special tests, moving to a different home and, well, the circumstances don't really matter. The congregation heard about the need and voted to give us an incredibly gracious love gift.The most gracious thing about the gift was the way it was given, simply: no strings, no questioning, just given liberally. This is how God gives (James 1:5) and how He tells us to give (Romans 12:8). I wish it were as simple to explain our gratitude. But I do want you to know how gratifying it is to see a local church, a small church plant like our own, that "works." Anita and I are just one of a number of families that have been overwhelmed by the loving care of the body at Grace Baptist Church. God is at work in our church and He is graciously giving us evidence of it at a time when we need it most. We want to thank you and let you know that we thank God for you.Posted by Pastor Smith, Saturday, May 12

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The water of Life and the tree of Life

"He (the blessed man) shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season...." (Psalm 1:3) We memorized this promise in Sunday School. We saw the river, blue and clear, on our flannel graph with the spreading oak tree flourishing on the river bank. Oaks don't produce much fruit, but flannel doesn't lie and who were we to quibble? Actually, the scene depicted in the first Psalm is quite different and the promise is all the more precious for it. The word pelgey, translated 'rivers,' refers to channels laboriously carved out of rock or watercourses dug from the earth to irrigate an orchard. Water is the most precious commodity in the Near East, because there are no rivers as we know them in North America and the rainfall is seasonal. The Jordan is so salty that it was useless for farming. Water from fresh springs, living water, was channelled to pools such as Siloam in Jerusalem. Farmers would terrace the hillside to hold the rainfall for the olive trees and they would dig irrigation ditches to distribute the life-giving water to the fruit trees.When the blessed man in Psalm One meditates day and night in the Law, the instruction of the LORD, he is digging channels that will bring the life-giving water to his soul. Meditation is not searching the soul or basking in silence. Meditation is searching the Word and rehearsing its truth. The blessed man delights in his work, just as Adam did in the garden of Eden. The book of Psalms begins with the centrality of the Word of God in the life of the godly. The praises and worship of the book of Psalms, just as the leaves and fruit of the tree, spring from the Word of God itself. How dry and unsatisfying is worship that is not saturated with the water of the Word!Posted by Pastor Smith, Friday May 11.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Valuable Biographical Resources

Maybe you have already heard about the biographical messages delivered each year by Pastor John Piper at what I believe is an annual Pastor’s conference held at Bethlehem Baptist Church. But for those of you who have not been introduced to these messages please allow me the privilege. About two months ago a pastor friend of mine told me about these messages and suggested that I take time and listen to at least one. Well I did and now I am hooked! Essentially what Pastor Piper does each year is to select a noted figure from church history and for one hour he gives an overview of their life, their work, and their unique contribution to the work of God in history. These messages are full of memorable vignette’s about the person’s life and ministry that will inspire and encourage you in your own service for the Lord. What I have discovered about each of these extraordinary men is that they lived, for the most part, very ordinary lives. They faced the same hardships and heartbreaks that we do today. But what sets these men apart from many of us is their response to God when trouble was their lot. I do not want to minimize their intellectual capacities as there are some very bright people on this list, but rather what I hope you will see is their radical single mindedness for the Lord and His church. I can’t begin to describe for you the influence these messages have had in my own life and also in Wendy’s life as well. We would highly recommend them to you and your family. Here’s all you need to get started: would love to know which is your favorite, so please let us know!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Has been crushed, is being crushed, will be crushed

The good news of the gospel is that our Jesus has crushed [justification], is crushing [sanctification], and will finally and fully crush [that’s glorification] the head of the serpent. And we know that the serpent of Genesis 3 is Satan, in part, because of the language Paul uses to describe Satan in Romans 16.20. So let’s read Genesis 3.15 [the Protoevangelium or first gospel] and Romans 16.20 and make a redemptive historical connection. Let me read it in the Harris paraphrase.15[God the Father] will put enmity between [Satan] and the woman [Eve], and between Satan’s offspring [the reprobates who loves self]; and Eve’s offspring [the redeemed who love God in Christ]; [Jesus] shall bruise [Satan’s] head, and [Satan] shall bruise [Christ’s] heel. 20The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Anticipating more than eating Connie's southern biscuts

I'm sitting in our living room drinking coffee [thanks Paul and Jenean for the Kona Blue Sky Coffee Beans] anticipating the delicious taste of Connie's homemade biscuits that are already in the oven but not yet baked. More than the culinary anticipation of eating Connie's cooking, I'm joyfully anticipating the experience we'll share together on Sunday celebrating the declaration that Jesus was declared to be the "Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead" [Romans 1.4]. In other words, "He was 'descended from David' in order to share our weakness, but was transformed by the 'Spirit of holiness' at the Resurrection, and was brought into a new epoch of His personal human existence" [TRSB, p. 1612].God the Father receives glory from the God the Spirit's transformation of God the Son at His resurrection from the dead! This is the purpose [end] of all of God's redemptive acts whether the creation of the world, the erecting of 12 stones to commemorate the passing over the Jordan "on the day the Passover lamb was to be chosen," or Christ's resurrection from the dead. The purpose for these wonderful saving acts was that "all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever" [Joshua 4.24].In our prayer circle on Wednesday, Albert shared his passion for evangelism. I was stirred and am happy that Grace Baptist is stirring into flame a desire to share the gospel with Newton Township and beyond. The fan that will increasingly enliven the flame will be the God-given desire that God's fame be spread and poured out over Northeastern PA. Our brother Peter puts it this way:"Whoever speaks, as one who speaks the oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies - in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" [I Peter 4.11] .So we do not ultimately exalt those things that are merely used to echo God’s glorious shout. That would be to exalt a sun’s beam rather than to bask in its effulgent radiance. To ultimately exalt those means is to flirt with idolatry. This is a great danger for all of us in the 21st evangelical church. As Louie Giglio reminds us, we worship the waiter and miss the meal.So on this resurrection weekend, let's exult with Peter the Name of the One who is risen from the dead and has raised us to be seated with Christ in the heavenly places: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” [Acts 3.6]

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Worship - More Corporate Than We Realize

Worship – More Corporate Than We Realize.“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” Heb 12:22-24Have you ever seriously consider these verses? In this section the writer of Hebrews is encouraging these stunted and persecuted believers to press on in their Christian faith and commitment by reminding them of their privileged status under the New Covenant. He reminds them that they no longer must come with dread and a trembling uncertainty to a God that they must worship from a distance (vs 18-21). Instead, now that they are in Christ (and Christ in them), they have full and free access into the heavenly city of God, Zion (vs 22) where there are myriads of angels gathered in festal dress, departed Christians, God the judge of all, OT saints, and Jesus - the mediator of the New Covenant. These verses give us a small glimpse of what the redeemed will see and experience in heaven. It is hard to even imagine what this will be like – the perfect, undistracted worship of God, accompanied by literally innumerable angels collectively echoing their unique and eternal praise (Rev 7:12). Along with the redeemed from every age who also loudly cry out their praise (Rev 7:11). Collectively they all stand before God the judge of all, and before Jesus their mediator. To just think of this as something still future, as an event yet to come, is to miss the point. The writer tells us that we have come now to this state, or to say it another way, we have entered into this reality even now. Though we are not yet present in our glorified bodies, we do however participate today in spirit. This is the reality of New Covenant worship! Think of this, because of Jesus our New Covenant mediator, it is now possible for us to be ushered directly into this scene described above during our times of worship – “you have come” into the very presence of God as described above. This is not imaginary stuff here – it is real, as real as anything we see around us now. Our duty is to believe it, and by faith receive it as real, and enter into it joyfully. The next time you find that your heart dull and maybe even cold during times of worship, remember that you are not alone, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” Heb 12:22-24Knowing this should enrich our sense of reverence and sense of wonder and joy as we privately and collectively enter into the very presence of our redeeming God.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Just Do It?

How many sermons have we heard begin with an appeal from Romans 12:1-2 for us merely to do something, never considering that God’s righteousness as seen in the gospel [Romans 1-11] is God’s power for accomplishing God’s work? The beauty of the gospel is that, although we are the means by which God is pleased to diffuse His glory, He is the end. If we are the beam, He is the sun. If we are the echo, He is the shout. If we are the appetizer, He is the meal.
I love how Paul puts it in I Corinthians 15:10 when he says: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” This is an astonishing admission! It was Paul’s understanding of an “alien righteousness” that was not his own that enabled him to work harder than any of them.
Often in our pragmatic evangelical age, the “knowledge of the Holy” has been replaced [not necessarily denied] with the “knowledge of the How to” – How can I have a better marriage? How can I be a better parent? How can I beat my addictions? The tragedy with this sort of humanly-preoccupied thinking is that the person [the infinite worth] and work [the glorious fruit] of Jesus Christ as the answer for those important questions is sidelined.So instead of beginning with Romans 12:1-2, let's ignore chapter divisions and start with verses 33-36 of chapter 11:
33Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor” 35“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

The Virtue of Single-mindedness

One of my favorite professors, Dr. Rembert Carter, used to say, "I am so narrow-minded that I can look through a keyhole with both eyes." He had a way with words. He would spark our thinking by taking common words and using them in a specific biblical context. A some point, we've all encountered those single-minded companions, who are so focused, so convinced of their rightness, so persistent … and oh so ready to help you to see things more clearly, the way they do! The last thing you want is to be as single-minded as they are.The good news is that you can be single-minded the way God is rather than the way men are. James tells us that God gives wisdom haplos "single-mindedly" in contrast to men who won't receive the gifts of God because they are "double-minded" (James 1:5-8). God's grace has no motive or motivation; He gives freely, simply because it is His nature to give. God gives singly, without strings attached, and without reproach. Because of our nature, we find it difficult even to receive gifts in this manner. We are double-minded, we doubt, we wait for the other shoe to drop. When do I get The Lecture?Why won't we give and, more importantly, forgive single-mindedly? "I can forgive, but I can't forget." "If I just forgive, they won't learn!" A little later in the book, James reminds us that not many of us should seek to be teachers (James 3:1). Are you a lover of men or a teacher of men? "If I just forgive them, they will do it again." Of course they will! That is why we forgive quickly, before the offenses start to pile up and we become bitter.We don't forgive single-mindedly, because we have a second option: "I've been wounded." The wounded brother or sister is the one who gets the attention. The church musters her resources to help the wounded and doesn't have the time or the energy to help the dying. We involve ourselves in conflict resolution because we won't accept the simple solution: give and forgive the way God does.Single-mindedness narrows our options and keeps our eyes upon God. This kind of single-mindedness is not characterized by intensity, but, rather, it is characterized by simple intent. Jesus, teaching about our attitude toward money and giving, said. "...if your eye is single, haplous, your whole body will be full of light" (Matt 6:22). We walk in the light when we see things, simply, single-mindedly, as God has shown them to us.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

What is acceptable worship? Part 1

I'm at the office [it's 9:00 a.m. and it's the Lord's day] thankful that in Christ I can "offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe."Hebrews 12:28 looks back to the beginning of the paragraph that begins in verse 25. It looks back because vs. 28 begins with the word "Therefore." So perhaps, in context, vv. 25-27 and even vv. 18-24 will help us answer the vital question, "What is acceptable worship?"1. Acceptable worship begins with hearing and receiving the One who is speaking. Notice that vs. 18 speaks of the "hearers" at Sinai. The glory of God, on Sinai and in Christ, is not a negotiable conversation. In fact, if we refuse and reject the voice of God who is speaking through the Bible His gospel from heaven, we are in greater peril than those who rejected when God spoke on earth at Sinai.I like how David Wells puts it: “Revelation is not the human being reaching up to seize the meaning of life, or gazing into itself for that meaning, but God reaching down to explain life’s meaning.” David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World [2005]So my desire is to hear and receive the One who is speaking. I'll continue later with a part 2. If I don't leave, I'll be late and risk not hearing and receiving the Word from our pastor.I'm thankful, commonly, for Starbucks coffee. Since Jordan and Jen both work there, I am the undeserving recipient of much free and delicious caffeine.Doc

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mister, can you spare some change?

It's a paradox: we want change and we need change, but we fear changing and we avoid changes. The reason for this paradox is simple; humans beings are not simple. The human soul is a complex combination of impulses, experiences, needs, and choices. Change is a paradox because it touches two of our most basic needs. We need hope, the expectation that our situation can change for the better. But we also have a deep, abiding need to fit in, to be part of something larger than ourselves that tells us who we are. The same force that makes hope possible, change, unsettles us and makes us doubt that we can fit into a changed world.The believer comes to terms with this paradox by faith, by trusting in what the God of the Bible has said in the Word about who we are: We are His workmanship, created for works which God has prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10). Significantly, the Bible does not have a lot to say about why things change. Faith and hope (expectation that God will work all things together) replace explanation. The need for explanation pales beside the recognition of God and His authority. We can deal with change because it is the tool of the One who tells us who we are and where we fit.But what about the rest of the world? How will they deal with the paradox of change? Harold Bloom, a great mind and a prolific author (though no friend to the authority of God or of the Bible) suggests that our society is in peril because, "Authority ... has vanished from Western culture ...." (Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, Warner, 2002, p.2.) Authority, which links us to other people and makes us value things like genius, precisely because it brings about change, has been replaced by a thoughtless egalitarianism: everyone is equal, every idea has equal merit. Human authority, even the authority that comes from recognizing superior thought, superior ideals, superior achievement, is being lost.If we are right, and authority is necessary for humans to come to grips with change, then what will happen in a postmodern world in which authority is lost? For the unbeliever, the answer is that change is its own authority. The Darwinist sees change as the single Law of the Universe. Isaac Asimov said, "It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today," (from "My Own View," published in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ed. by Robert Holdstock, 1978). The postmodernist labels the Darwinist a "modernist" and rejects all of his conclusions, but retains his basic law. Even Christians in a postmodern age are adopting this new outlook. In place of the the "solas" of the reformers, the Emergent church is embracing sola mutatio "change alone." Anything that is new, any kind of change, has some kind of value that we must discover. The kindest and most congenial of the Emergent writers make no attempt to hide their scorn for any Christian 'brother' who questions change.The Good News is that the one thing that never changes, the Word of God, is the most effective agent for changing the world. When we live under the Authority of the Bible we are changed by the Bible and the changes in the world around become dim and pale. This is what the Bible calls hope: the expectation that one day we will be changed into the image of Christ. While we wait expectantly, the Word of God changes us to suit the world in which we live:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth. John 17:15-17 (NKJV)We used to call this sola scriptura :-)Pastor Colin Smith

How to use your worship folder [Part I]

There is a difference, in my way of thinking, between a church bulletin and a worship folder. A church bulletin may contain an order of service; however it's often cluttered with clip art, announcements from nearly every conceivable church ministry, and distracts the corporate worshipper from "seeing and savoring] the one thing that is needful.That's why our folder conforms itself to the logocentric [Word-centered] nature of an acceptable corporate worship service. It is a written affirmation that we are praying the Word [opening prayer, pastoral prayer, prayer for the gifts and offerings taken], singing the Word [hymns, modern hymns, and worship songs], reading the Word [this morning Revelation 6] and preaching the Word [everything points to the preaching of the Word heard by faith from the brothers and sisters in the congregation].So how can the worship folder help us to prepare our hearts for corporate worship, even for the few moments you have before the service begins?First, look at the Scripture or sometimes the quotation on the front of the folder. Pray the message of the content to your own heart. For instance, this morning [January 28, 2006] I might pray, "Yes, Lord! I desire to glorify and enjoy your forever! Yes, Father! I enjoy so many things more intensely than I should. I know that at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. At your right hand is where I desire to be!"Praying like this might be a great first step in learning how to use your worship folder.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Focusing on people and their deeds, and not on what God says and does

I'm enjoying [along with John Piper's What Jesus Demands from the World and David Wells's Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World] a book by Graeme Goldsworthy entitled Prayer and the Knowledge of God: What the whole Bible Teaches [2003].Goldsworthy mentions that a popular strategy for teaching prayer is the “exemplary approach” [Jesus got up before sunrise to pray, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and C.H. Spurgeon all regarded two hours of prayer a day as normal]. Rather than encouraging us, the “exemplary approach” often does quite the opposite. It makes us want to give up completely.The danger of the exemplary approach "is that it focuses on people and their deeds, and not what God says and does." This, of course, is a grave danger of the church growth movement where growth, rather than the fruit of what Christ has done for us in Christ, becomes confused with the vine or becomes the focus of why the church is successful.So the modern evangelical church is quite like the medieval Roman Catholic Church in that sanctification [personal holiness or deeds and exploits] becomes the ground for justification [right standing with God or the basis of approval]. This is legalism which Goldsworthy describes as "the attempt to achieve righteousness by our own efforts in fulfilling the requirements of God."Goldsworthy mentions that Jesus did not come primarily to set an example: "It was first of all a matter of believing in him as the unique fulfiller of the Old Testament prophecies of the Christ, the Savior who was to come to do for them what they were powerless to do for themselves.”Goldsworthy’s answer is to "keep reminding ourselves of what God has done for us as the central focus of the Bible. It is true that the Bible contains many commands and exhortations to Christian behavior. However when a biblical text dealing with the things we ought to do is appropriated apart from its wider context of the good news that God has first acted for us, legalism will begin to manifest itself."I’m curious to know what you are reading. Let's talk. By the way, and excellent blog to connect with is Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds: A Mix of Theology, Philosophy, Politics, and Culture Justin is the executive director of Desiring God Ministries. I’m excited that tomorrow we’ll be seated around the Lord’s Table. Pray that we'll be hungry and thirsty for heavenly food and drink.Pastor David

Saturday, January 13, 2007

100 Yards, Four Downs, Goalposts, and a Football

America's preoccupation with football is, in part, a preoccupation because of football's adherence to the grand tradition of the game. Of course in any given year there be variations made to the game [even these slight changes are vigorously discussed and often ignored after one season of use]; however the infinite variety, excitement, and creativity of the game is preserved because of and not in spite of its grand traditions. Boise State's 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma was exhilarating because we knew that fourth down meant "last chance." Creating a fifth down or deciding to throw a basketball instead, or playing the game on a golf course would inevitably change its nature, rendering football something else. Football's form [it's adherence to traditional structure] ensures the almost limitless excitement of its content.Worship's form [logocentrism or singing, praying, reading, and preaching the Word] ensures the limitless beauty of our "seeing and savoring" its content [God]. The tragedy of the worshipping 21st century American church is that she is changing the rules of the game. The game is now about her whims and not about that great Being worthy of infinite admiration. The church's singing and preaching have become humanly preoccupied. Her praying and reading the Word have almost ceased to exist. And in its place [our pastor instructed us last Sunday that nature abhors a vacuum] she has created shiny new methodologies - fifth downs, new playing fields, and odd looking game balls that render the worship of God something other than God's Worship. This is syncretism, the mixing of the worship of God with something else. This was the nation of Israel's sin. They worshipped the true God falsely [Exodus 32.5].This morning my Bible reading plan led me to Psalm 12. The Psalmist writes, "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times." Oh, that our worship [corporate and personal] will continue to be in accordance with the words of the LORD!Pastor David

Monday, January 8, 2007

Revelation vs. Dialogue

The need to communicate and the ability to communicate freely may be the most telling characteristics of our our generation. Technology has given us the ability to communicate with almost anyone, anywhere and at anytime. For our generation, communication itself, regardless of the content, has a virtue of its own. We love the media (television, phones, the Internet) because they inform us, they amuse us and they meet our needs.Our world is experiencing a new sense of 'connectedness.' We don't talk about living in our world; we talk about interacting with our world. We don't speak and listen, these are individual actions; we dialogue. Dialogue is the great leveler, making us all peers, making us all equal participants in conversation with one another.And ... herein lies the problem. For believers, born again by the Word of God, communication not a right, it is an act of grace. The Creator reveals himself to the world. He reveals the truth (an unpopular word) about Himself, about ourselves, and about our condition. In the premodern world, humans believed that they needed revelation. In the modern world, humans rejected the possibility that there was a God who could reveal himself. In the 'postmodern world,' humans reject the possibility of revelation from any source: facts are discovered, life is experienced, and each man communicates based upon his own internal language.The psalmist who composed Psalm 119 would have recognized this philosophy à la mode. He said, "My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to Your word. I recounted my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes." Psa 119:25, 26 He understood that, as humans, we want to hold on to the things of this life, the things of this ephemeral, dying world. Real life, eternal life, is given by God through the words revealed in the Bible. We do talk to God and He responds, but, more importantly, He makes us understand His statutes, the established order by which men must live.Psalm 119 speaks of precepts, instruction of law, statutes, and commandments. This kind of communication is not dialogue. It is a sinner (another unpopular word) saved by grace receiving the truth about the life that he or she must live. These words are not about information or amusement nor are they about meeting the needs of man. Precepts are heeded, instruction is followed, statutes are observed, and commandments are obeyed.The reader of the Bible is not a peer of the author nor is he a participant in a conversation. He is either a 'hearer' or a fool. Much of modern communication is foolishness, but we crave it anyway. Even the best communicators, Shakespeare, Donatelli, Charlie Chaplin, can only speak about things that humans share in common. The psalmist craved something better, "Make me understand the way of your precepts so that I can meditate on your wonderful works." Psa 119:27If it is true that bread is the staff of life, then dialogue is the stuff of life. We communicate with humans about our humanness, and we pull ourselves deeper into our human condition - we cling to dust. We might ask, with the psalmist, that God will revive us according to His Word.Just some things on my mind and in my heart, this first week of 2007.