Ask For the Ancient Paths

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“Stand at the crossroads and look;

Ask for the ancient paths,

Ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.

But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.” (Jer. 6:16 – NIV)

Jerusalem was at the crossroads when the prophet spoke these words to a people who had long ago tuned out the voice of God in the word of God. They were disoriented and on the wrong road – the road to destruction. God had lovingly sent messengers who were prophets – like Isaiah and Jeremiah – who warned God’s people of the consequences of rejecting God’s will by following after the idols of foreign peoples. But they would not heed His gracious warnings.

“I appointed watchmen over you and said,

‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’

But you said, ‘We will not listen.’” (Jer. 6:17 – NIV)

The Evangelical church is at a crossroads in our own times. As a church family we reflected on this in my sermon entitled “How is the Gospel at Stake in Same-Sex Marriage?” (July 12, 2015). In this blog post I seek to put in writing some of the more salient points from the message so as to multiply its reach for the church.

What exactly is the problem?

Some evangelicals are discarding belief that the Bible defines homosexuality as sin. I’m not talking about what the society is doing. I am talking about members of the visible church who have expressed support for same-sex marriage not simply as a legal societal reality but are suggesting the church should accept it and practice it. Among the many reasons offered for this about face (all which I cannot delineate in this short post) is the notion that this is a matter of personal conscience since it belongs in the category of ethics and not doctrine essential to the gospel.

While this is a clever argument, the fact is it touches upon our definition and understanding of sin, which has everything to do with doctrine essential to the gospel. The gospel is God’s power unto salvation – from sin. As such, it is not a secondary matter and as a result the very gospel is at stake in this debate (doctrinal not political). I offered three ways the gospel is at stake, the first of which I will reiterate in this first post.

The gospel is at stake because the gospel calls for repentance as well as faith.

If homosexuality is not deemed sin; there is no repentance and if there is no repentance of sin, there is no salvation. To repent is to turn from and forsake sin and to turn toward God. While repentance and faith are distinct they are inseparable. Both Jesus and the apostles preached the necessity of repentance and faith as essential components of genuine conversion (our human response to the gospel call). They are two-sides of the same coin. Repentance of sin was at the heart of the preaching of our Lord Jesus and the apostles (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19).

“… I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20–21 – ESV)

But does the bible teach that homosexuality is a sin that needs forsaking? In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 Paul strongly urges his readers to live a life pleasing to God because God’s will is their sanctification (a holy and distinct life). In particular, they are to flee sexual immorality (Greek porneia). While the emphasis in this passage is upon monogamy, the term porneia encompasses various sorts of sexually immoral behavior including homosexuality as evidenced by several standard New Testament Greek Lexicons (cf. Louw Nida). Other biblical contexts closely link the term with homosexuality (Jude 7; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Paul makes very clear the consequences of rejecting this teaching. To disregard what he writes is not to “disregard man but God.” God is the “avenger” in these matters (1 Thess. 4:6-8). This refers to the coming judgment of God’s wrath upon any and all who reject His authority and continue in a life of unrepentant sinful practices, including homosexuality (Col. 3:5-6).

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5–6 – ESV)

Some Evangelicals now hesitate to call individual men and women to repentance of homosexuality because they have embraced the narrative that this behavior is simply part of how they are “wired” and we can’t expect them to change their very nature. But repentance of all sin is the product of a changed nature that is the result of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. This is true of every sinner who has come to faith in Christ.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11 – ESV).

Here Paul briefly describes the awesome and gracious transformative power of the gospel. It not only brings about a new legal standing with God (justified); a new positional standing relative to the world (sanctified); but it also produces a moral transformation such that Paul can say “such were some of you” as he recalls their former manner of life. Throughout human history there have been many powerful testimonies of both men and women delivered by God’s grace from a life of homosexuality. Consider the testimony of Rosaria Butterfield in her illuminating book “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

This does not mean that same-sex attraction will never again tempt every true believer who has repented of homosexuality and has been converted by God’s grace. All the sinful propensities and inclinations of what Paul refers to as the “flesh” are not eradicated in the new birth. Temptations of every kind continue to abound of both heterosexual and homosexual varieties (Rom. 7:13-24). But it does mean that the believer will be characterized as one who repents of any and all known sin and seeks by God’s grace to live a life pleasing to God (1 Jn. 1:9). The fact that Paul had to write this to believers who had responded to his own preaching should make that clear to all.

I pray we will all remember that repentance for each and every one of us was a God-wrought grace at the very threshold of the kingdom of God. It is not only “a mark that someone has done wrong but also a sign of the hand of God upon an individual” (Butterfield). It is a gift of God every believer experienced at the doorway of his or her salvation and continues to experience. One of the cruelest things we can do is to falsely assure individuals that they can have Christ and the kingdom without repenting of sin – including homosexual sins. This has been the devil’s lie from the beginning.“You surely will not die!”

Are you at the crossroads?

Are you debating whether we as members of Christ’s church should embrace and practice same-sex marriage? If so…

“Ask for the ancient paths, 

Ask where the good way is, and walk in it. 

And you will find rest for your souls”

To withhold a call to repentance of this sin is to distort the grace of the gospel and to rob it of its power. It is not the path of Jesus or the apostles. Instead of withholding a call to repentance we should gently and lovingly hold out the promise of salvation through faith in Christ and repentance of sin to all, and then trust our Lord to work in the hearts of those whom He is calling to Himself. This will not result in popularity in today’s cultural context (nor in Paul’s for that matter) but it is the good way and we must walk in it.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24–26 – ESV)

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Show Me Your Glory

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Beginning this Sunday we will start a new sermon series on what is traditionally referred to as the attributes of God entitled “Show Me Your Glory.” I enter this subject with both the hope that we will see more of God’s glory as revealed in Christ and with prayerful humility. A wrong or warped view of God can have devastating effects upon an individual and the church. But a deepening grasp of God’s character, while always incomplete, will yield a growing maturity and confidence in a believer’s walk with Christ. This is going to be even more essential in our times.

I am reminded of the words of A. W. Tozer, which I read as a young believer.

“The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself…Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea about God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self disclosure of her witness concerning God.” (Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 9).

What are your ideas about God? I humbly hope you will plan on attending and/or follow the series online as it unfolds.


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Praying the Church Forward

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In our recent annual elders’ church evaluation and strategy meetings we came to the unanimous understanding that several challenges lie before our local congregation. Of course, this is consistently the case for every local church. There is always some challenge on the horizon. But it is important to stress that while identifying what needs to be done is a healthy exercise for church leadership, prayer is never the last step.

Before anything is done our intents and needs must be set before the Lord in corporate and prevailing prayer. I want to publish some of the major challenges facing our congregation here with the hope that they will be circulated among the flock and stimulate prayer, while we continue to develop goals and specific plans for moving forward.

I have purposefully left out details at this point and will devote the remainder of the entry to the subject of prayer. We will provide more information and seek the congregation’s input and involvement in the near future in a less public forum.

  1. The development of near and far term elders/pastors.
  2. The development and revitalization of the diaconate.
  3. Deepening and improving our discipleship of both men and women.
  4. The division of labor among ministerial staff.
  5. The resetting and recasting of vision regarding church growth/planting (mission) beyond the Hispanic ministry (which has been our focus for two years).
  6. Various facility improvements and the need to address our space limitations.

Praying for the Temple

In 1 Chronicles 29 David gives thanks for the offerings collected for the construction of the new temple. I find this chapter instructive and illuminating as I ponder the challenges that lay ahead for us. I hope you will also find them to be insightful and encouraging.

What stands out in my mind is not so much the amount collected but the heart attitude of the people and the theology of David’s prayer. I invite you to read the chapter and consider both of these principles. Whatever plans we develop for improvement in the areas mentioned above and others, it will require deep faith and church-wide involvement.

The Heart Attitude of the People

“Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the LORD with a whole heart…” (29:9). The success of what we accomplish in ministry should not be measured in monetary value, but by the heart attitude with which our gifts are given and ministry is carried out. Their offerings were given with a “whole heart.” This pregnant expression deserves a brief explanation.

A careful study of 1 & 2 Chronicles will reveal a special emphasis on the concept of a properly disposed heart. While the Hebrew term heart occurs 850 times in the Old Testament it is found 63 times in 1 & 2 Chronicles. The phrase “with a perfect heart” or “with a whole heart” occurs 21 times. This prompts commentator Roddy Braun to rightly see “the disposition of the heart” as one of the main themes in 1 & 2 Chronicles. We should also point out that a note of joy is frequently struck in connection with this attitude of a whole heart. The expression, therefore, depicts the undivided enthusiasm in which the project was taken up by David’s generation. It underscores that what matters is that our obedience be done with a willing, generous, undivided and joyful heart. Think about how far this heart attitude could take us.

I thank the Lord that He has given His New Covenant people a new heart from which the obedience of faith springs. Our efforts should outshine the world’s examples of “teamwork” a “human spirit” and “dedication.” We are the family of God! Christ is our brother! We realize that true and lasting joy is not found in what we KEEP but in what we GIVE! This applies to our wealth, gifts, talents and energies.

He has taught us to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:20-21). It will take nothing less than our whole hearts joyfully submitted to God to move forward in our mission. May God profoundly unite our hearts in this effort.

The Theology of David’s Prayer

Read David’s prayer (29:10-19) and note the following:

(1) We human beings don’t truly “own” anything. Wealth comes from God and He is the ruler of all things (29:10-12). Hence, David will say, “For all things come from you, and from your hand we have given to you” (29:14). Whatever we give and offer to our local church ministry is “for the Lord’s sake” and belongs to the Lord as it is. We are stewards of our “possessions” and abilities, not owners. This prompts D. A. Carson to note, “Such a stance utterly destroys any notion of us ‘giving’ something to God in any absolute terms. It becomes a pleasure to give to God, not only because we love Him, but because we happily recognize that all we ‘own’ is His anyway!”

(2) Our human experience is transient while God Himself is eternal (29:10, 15). Here is the king of a powerful and enduring dynasty settled ‘in the land” God had given him and still he recognizes that they are just “tenants.” This theology is grounded in the truth that only what is rooted in the eternal work of God will have lasting value. The temple to be built was significant only because it was to be built to His “holy name” (29:16). We are all just passing through the Bay Area on our spiritual journey with Christ.

(3) Though the responsibility to persevere in this heart attitude belongs to man it is made possible only by the intervening grace of God (29:18). This was a tremendous day! The people had given so liberally and wholeheartedly. But this was just the beginning! The work to be accomplished was “great” and would require sustained commitment. Hence David prays, “preserve this forever” and “direct their heart to you.”

As I sit here today I humbly recognize the need of God’s powerful, gracious and sovereign hand. This will be my twentieth year as pastor-teacher of GBC. In some ways we have plateaued. In many other ways we are still growing. But moving forward will require greater teamwork, sacrifice, faith and wisdom.

Addressing these areas looms over the horizon like nearby Mt. Diablo. It will entail much from each and every one of us. Yet, I have hope because I know that David’s God is our God. He still owns all things. He is still the Chief Shepherd of the Church. He still walks among the candlesticks as the all knowing, omnipotent Lord and Savior (Rev. 1-3).

What we seek to accomplish we seek for the sake of His holy name. He can still direct all our hearts and the hearts of those with whom we will partner. May He make our hearts and hands strong for the work ahead that all praise might be given to Him alone.


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Children in the Worship Service

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Let the Children Come to Me

A few weeks ago I noted that in Ephesians 6:1 the apostle Paul directly addresses children. As the custom was to read the entire letter in one sitting in a gathered assembly of the church, it is evident that he expected them to be with their families in the context of corporate worship. The Old Testament teaches that children are a blessing from the Lord and thus it should come as no surprise that families were together. Lifetime habits and attitudes are often shaped early in life.

It is important at this point to be mindful of the interpretive principle that “description” is not the same as “prescription.” There is no commandment to always have children and their families united in all gatherings and activities of the local church. Nevertheless, in our highly segregated social context we do well to encourage Christian families to begin training their children to understand the concept of corporate worship by having them sit with them in the worship service.

I listed several benefits derived from this:

  1. Children pick-up more than you think.
  2. Children benefit from observing their parents worship.
  3. Children benefit from seeing believers other than their parents worship.
  4. Children can benefit spiritually by sitting under the preaching of the gospel.
  5. Children will gradually learn to sit still and listen and this is better than a sudden culture shock if parents wait too long before bringing them in.

I understand different families are at different stages of spiritual and social development and face some unique challenges. Single moms that just came to the faith have different needs than 2nd generation home-schooling Christian families. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is why we maintain childcare and children’s education classes during both worship services. We want to provide opportunities that will be supportive of the most situations possible.

That said, I want to mention a few more practical hints for families and provide a resource.

  1. Consider introducing involvement a little at a time. You don’t need to do it all at once. When children are too young to understand the things being spoken have them sit with you up to the preaching section of the service then take them to class. Begin by bringing them with you into the service once, then twice a month and so forth. We encourage parents with children younger than 4 years old to utilize the nursery and only bring the children in on occasion for a portion of the service.
  1. Sit where you can easily exit with a minimum distraction to others. I did mention this but it’s worth repeating. Parents whose little ones become distracting should sit near the exit doors not near the front row. This will help minimize distractions. If you need to exit make use of the video screens in the foyer and do not return with the child until the behavior can be corrected.
  1. Utilize the children’s outline. We provide outlines for older children to follow or have crossword puzzles related to the topic. Bring crayons for younger children to color on the backside of the outline. Ask them to draw something related to the topic. What’s the topic? You can easily identify it with the adult outline. Ask them to listen for key words.
  1. Talk about the service afterwards. Young children find it difficult to make abstract connections between sermon topics and everyday life. What’s the point? Why do we go there? What were people talking about? Discuss simple concepts afterwards.
  1. Learn the worship songs at home. The sermon is going to be new but all the music doesn’t need to be. Families can help ease the transition into the new experience of the worship service by not making everything new! Praising and praying are activities that should take place in both the home and the assembly.
  1. Use the same bible in the worship service that you do at home. Is Sunday the only time your children see your bible open? Open it at home and read from it many times. Read the text for the Sunday sermon on Saturday night. Maybe its time to give up the convenience of using the bible on your cell phone, which your young children won’t be able to share, and start carrying a printed bible again. Perhaps give them a small children’s bible of their own to bring.

Here is a PDF of our handout Children in the worship Service brochure

Parents are ultimately responsible for the training of their children. Our church ministries are designed to provide support for parents and families. Training children involves forethought and effort. If there is any way you could use further help please let us know.

Training children to participate in worship will require sensitivity and patience from all of us. We should seek to respond to occasional disturbances and inconveniences with patience and community love. Our irritation should quickly turn into prayer for the children and their parents who are faithfully raising them to fear the Lord and delight in His adoration.

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Fit for the Times

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“We have not men fit for the times.”

So wrote John Adams, the second president of the United States. He was referring to the demands of the political tensions and military battles ushering in the American Revolution and the birth of our nation. His reasoning was that unique chapters in history require individuals with like experience and character to meet the challenges of the moment.

In one sense, that is true. God has fit specific individuals with gifts and abilities that seemed perfectly suited to their time. As a bit of a minor history buff I think of George Washington (Adams’ remarks were made before he knew Washington well) and Winston Churchill.

But in another sense, we as believers must view his remarks through the lens of the gospel. The gospel teaches us that our sufficiency is always found in Christ and His gifts. In addition, biblically speaking, our times are like all times since the resurrection of our Lord Jesus up to this very moment. Since the resurrection of our Lord Christians have all lived in the “already-not yet” tension of belonging to two ages.

His kingdom has “already” pierced this present age and has broken through into our hearts and yet we still pray “Thy kingdom come.” The political and social landscape may change but spiritually speaking we have been in the same stage of redemptive history since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is the age in which God is bringing in His people from every nation, tribe and tongue. This is the age of the church militant. Our enemies remain the godless world system (whatever political shape it takes), the flesh and the devil.

Who Is Sufficient For These Times?

We should be encouraged to know that none other than the apostle Paul saw himself as “inadequate” for the greatest task of all “times” – announcing and ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ, which has profound eternal consequences for human beings. Inadequate, in and of himself that is.

“Who is sufficient for these things?” he asks in 2 Cor. 2:16. If Paul expected a negative answer (“no one”), it was because he was acknowledging his lack of self-sufficiency. That is to say, no one in and of himself is up to this task. Success in the Christian life and gospel ministry are never the result of one’s own capacities and gifts. They are the product of God’s divine grace.

Which is why some scholars believe Paul was anticipating a positive answer because he goes on to say the following:

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit….” 2 Corinthians 3:5–6a.

It’s as if Paul was saying, “Who is adequate for this? Well, in Christ I am. I say this because I don’t peddle the gospel but teach the truth plainly and God makes me sufficient for the task. God brings to bear His divine power and the gifts of His Holy Spirit in my ministry.” Paul believed that his competence, just like his mission, came from God.

Indeed, in many ways these are troubling times. But it’s been this way more or less since Paul’s day. The gospel is always opposed and God’s people are a persecuted minority voice. As Paul notes in Romans,

As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” 

Truly, God’s people have suffered throughout the ages. And we can’t always make sense of it all. In fact, that’s the point of Psalm 44, which Paul quotes here. But thanks be to God that at any moment you and I can be “fit for the times” by the Holy Spirit. It is His grace and divine power that enables believers to persevere during times of great spiritual opposition and become “more than conquerors through Him.” Our competence, just like our mission, comes from Him.

Beloved, we may appear awkward and out of step with the culture to some degree because we are a counter-cultural people, but we have a word that is fit for all “times”, should God decide to bless it. We also have a Savior who is Lord over all “times” (Mt. 28:19). And we have a God who loves us – in all times (Rom. 8:38).




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A Humble Confession Leads to Reflection on Humility

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The Confession

I fully realize I have not found the same rhythm and pace to be blogging on a weekly basis since my sabbatical. For this I request and value your prayers. Communication and the reinforcement of biblical truth are essential. It was the need for this humble confession that took me deeper into reflecting upon our recent teaching on humility as related to Ephesians 5. With deepest gratitude – Tony

The Humility of Mutual Submission

I myself, as much as any in our congregation, have been deeply challenged by the apostle Paul’s description of the fruit of a “Spirit-filled” church in Ephesians 5:18-21. Particularly, the 3rd and final mark in verse 21 – “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

As a brief reminder, we described what has been called “mutual submission” as embracing more than “those in subordinate positions respecting those in leadership roles.” While that is certainly true, verse 21 applies to the entire congregation and hence involves some aspect of subjection in both directions.

We defined it as: a joyful willingness to subject oneself to others in the fellowship of God’s people without undermining God-ordained authority structures. [The emphasis here being “without undermining.”]

The supreme example of this is our Lord Jesus Himself as seen in the 13th chapter of John. After taking the role of the lowliest servant in that culture by washing the feet of the disciples with water and a towel, Jesus stated:

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (ESV)

Our Lord never abdicated His position or role of Lord and teacher while subjecting Himself, not to some presumed authority in the disciples, but to their needs. This kind of “kneeling love” (Tim Keller’s language) requires a profound sense of Spirit-filled humility.

In Philippians 2:3 Paul states that what stands in the way of humility and a willingness to “count others more significant than yourselves” is “selfish ambition or conceit.” How true, finding my greatest joy in the success and growth of others is resisted by deep-seeded desires to promote myself. This can happen in the most subtle ways.

As I’ve been reflecting on humility as the virtue that gives rise to this selflessness I have been helped by the words of others. In an effort to promote your own meditation I share some of them with you below. But be forewarned, as someone has said, “studying humility can be a very humbling experience.”

“It is not humility to underrate yourself. Humility is to think of yourself as God thinks of you. It is to feel that if we have talents God has given them to us. And let it be seen that, like freight in a vessel, they tend to sink us low. The more we have, the lower we ought to lie.”Charles Spurgeon

“That man is truly humble who never claims any personal merit in the sight of God, nor proudly despises brethren, or aims at being thought superior to them, but reckons it enough that he is one of the members of Christ and desires nothing more than that the Head alone should be exalted.”John Calvin

“Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him.” – C. J. Mahaney

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”Augustine

“Humility may well be called the queen of the Christian graces. To know our own sinfulness and weakness, and to feel our need of Christ, is the very beginning of saving religion. It is a grace which has always been the distinguishing feature in the character of the holiest saints in every age… Above all, it is a grace within the reach of every true Christian. All have not money to give away. All have not time and opportunities for working directly for Christ. All have not gifts of speech, tact and knowledge, in order to do good in the world. But all converted people should labor to adorn the doctrine they profess by humility. If they can do nothing else, they can strive to be humble.”J. C. Ryle

“There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross. … Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner… that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust. … Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”Martyn Lloyd-Jones

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Gratitude Towards God & How Not to Tease Your Grandchildren

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Engendering Gratitude

Sometime during this Thanksgiving weekend take a few moments to consider the exhortation of David in Psalm 103. It will help you remember just how much we owe to the grace of God on a daily basis. As you make your way through the psalm speak to the Lord in your own personal prayerful expressions of gratitude.

Then, when you’re done with that, take a look at what happened when I sent a video to two of my grandchildren this Thanksgiving morning. I told them I was going to eat all the homemade Thanksgiving pie while filming my hands reaching for one of pies.

 Psalm 103:1-22 (ESV)

1Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

4who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

7He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.

10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

13As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

15As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

17But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,

18to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

19The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

20Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!

21Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!

22Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!



Here’s the clip:

They really do NOT want me to eat the pies!!


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The Fruit of Small Seeds and Deeds

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A Few Reflections on Sunday’s “God at Work” Testimony

Periodically we have the opportunity to be blessed by a personal testimony demonstrating how God is living and active in the life of people through the ministry of our local church. This Sunday we learned how the Lord brought a young man and his fiancé to faith. It began with someone giving her a small book to read and culminated in attending our bible narrative study “The Story of God” and a personal discipleship through the book “What is the Gospel?” In the end, our gracious Lord brought them to see Jesus is Lord of all.

In their heartfelt account we learned that they first came into contact with our church through the unpretentious ministry of our Christmas Carolers during the Christmas holiday in 2010. It was there that they were invited to a Christmas worship service and given a cup of hot chocolate. Four years later he was standing before us sharing the story of their journey to faith. Think about this, it started with Christmas hymns on a rainy night, a cup of hot chocolate and a small in-house designed invitation card. Take a moment to reflect on the many “small” contributions made in each of those components.

Their testimony reminds us that we often see very little of the fruit of our ministry. Paul states, “I planted, Apollos watered but God caused the growth.” By the time gospel seeds come to fruit the original seed caster is often no longer around. But all along the way there were people contributing to the cumulative process in which the Holy Spirit was drawing and illuminating people to the grace of God in Jesus. They also don’t often see the fruit of their watering and many don’t ever even see their contribution at all. I am so thankful the Lord drew the curtain back on their story and highlighted some of the details for all of us.

In light of this, I want to encourage all the “behind the scenes” people and all who wonder if the little gestures and contributions really make a difference to remember the words of Paul.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58

Please consider how you can make similar small but significant contributions to watering the seeds of the gospel in the lives of others. I offer a few suggestions below which I read recently in another blog entitled “20 Ways to be Refreshing in the Local Church” over at The Gospel Coalition. You can find the entire list and post here.

  • Greet people on Sunday mornings with a smile. It is o.k. to let your face say that you are “happy” to be at church. Go out of your way to say, “Hi,” ask questions about the lives of others, and listen attentively.
  • Visit the widows and shut-ins of your church. Take an afternoon and visit three or four. Sit, talk, listen, and be willing to look at their photo albums—all of them (1 Timothy 5:3)!
  • Have a mouth that is overflowing with grace (Ephesians 4:29) and is slow to wander down any other road.
  • Show up each Sunday morning with a mental list of three or four people that you are going to find and minister to (Philippians 2:4). Many of us walk into church with an attitude of, “I wonder who will minister to me today.” Nothing can be as drastically encouraging to a local church’s membership than a people united in the understanding that they are there to serve and love one another.
  • Don’t rush out of church on Sunday mornings. Be one of the last to leave because you are taking the time to talk with everyone you can (this will be hard for the introvert—but some of the most engaging and refreshing people I have served with are introverts. They wear themselves out on Sunday morning). The football games and lunch will be there fifteen or thirty minutes later.
  • Often remind others of the benefits of salvation and the graces that flow from union with Christ. Let it season your conversations.
  • Routinely have a crock-pot meal or roast cooking on Sundays and spontaneously invite a visiting family or family-in-need for supper following the service.
  • Seek out those visiting the church, get to know them, and introduce them to others. Find connections and be a networker to the glory of God.
  • Aim to remember peoples’ names and greet them by name each Sunday (I wish I was better at this, because it means so much to people). The Cheers’ theme song had a point, we all feel loved when our name is known (Isaiah 49:16).
  • Get to know the children of the congregation and seek to talk to five different children each Sunday morning (Matthew 19:14).
  • Know the Word and season your conversations with it. This isn’t to impress others, but rather to encourage them in the faith. The Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
  • Write and mail anonymous encouragement notes to members of the congregation. Why are we so hesitant to pass out encouragement? We can never encourage others too much (1 Thessalonians 5:11).



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Books I Read on Sabbatical

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BooksThis summer’s sabbatical was not to be a “working” break so I read very little by way of methodology and philosophy of ministry. It’s hard for me to turn off the utilitarian “how could this improve our ministry?” perspective. As I result, I started with Black Hawk Down, by Mark Bowden. This is a fast moving and intense historical account of the longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War, which took place in Mogadishu, Somalia. This book later became a major film. Hardly a “church methods” volume (though the portrayal of human courage and sacrifice could possibly rouse the apathetic).

I usually read one historical war novel each summer, mostly those set in WWII, but this was given to me by a friend so I dove right in.

I won’t comment much on each of the remaining books but will provide a few thoughts.

Holy Bible – English Standard Version

I’m still familiarizing myself with this wonderful contemporary translation. I read through the Book of Psalms, Ecclesiastes, 1 and 2 Timothy, Ephesians and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

George Whitefield – a Biography by Arnold Dallimore

I really enjoyed Dallimore’s concise biography of Charles Spurgeon and found this work to be just as readable and digestible. A sweeping overview of a man used by God to awaken so many. The vigor and relentlessness of Whitefield’s devotion came through clearly and was what struck me the most. It is a fast paced condensed version of his massive two-volume set.

Spurgeon on Leadership – by Larry J. Michael

This book is more than a collection of quotes and excerpts from Spurgeon’s writings. Each section includes comments, reflections and thoughtful contemporary application. A worthwhile  read for those less familiar with Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students.

Evangelism – by Mack Stiles

Stiles lives what he writes and this comes through on every page. A quick read that will not leave you discouraged with your own evangelistic blunders. Rather, it will stir you to prayerfully consider how our Lord could use your work-a-day life to reach others and how to contribute to a church culture of evangelism.

The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service – by Henry A. Crumpton

This was the only E-book I completed. It is New York Times best-seller. I enjoy a good spy mystery but this was no fantasy espionage. Crumpton is a 24 year veteran of the CIA and he provides fascinating insight into how the post-911 military response took shape and why the CIA became the tip of the spear. He will make you reflect on the value and necessity of foreign and domestic data acquisition.


Here are a couple of volumes I read from but did not quite complete during the summer months.

Lit! by Tony Reinke

This is a book on how and why to read books. It’s nowhere near as long and technical as the best-selling classic How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler. It will spark you to re-evaluate your time spent in the digital world and might even inspire those who think they don’t like to read or don’t have time. It is written with a Christian world-view in that it cherishes the Christian imagination and value of Holy Scripture. Ironic that I didn’t complete the book on how to complete books!

The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones – a biography by Iain H. Murray

This is a one-volume condensed version of Murray’s two volumes published a few decades ago. Murray sat under the ministry of Lloyd-Jones and his first hand knowledge and access to original sources comes through. No modern Christian celebrity-ism here. A bit slow at first, this biography traces how God sovereignly used a humble doctor and man of prayer to proclaim the truth of the gospel to a time and people that did not want it.

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Two are Better than One

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“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

In Christian circles marriage is often humorously described as one of God’s most effective tools for our sanctification.  All humor aside, two human beings living so intimately together will definitely expose our strengths and weaknesses in 1080 HD. There’s simply no hiding it.

One of the greatest gifts of marriage may be gleaned from this insightful proverb. Life can be lonely and Christian ministry especially. Having a believing life partner to pick you up is one of God’s most precious gifts. My wife has certainly been a source of tremendous comfort, encouragement and objective input throughout the last 20 years of ministry at GBC. But, we’ve always had schedules that constricted how much focused quality time we could spend together. Well, the sabbatical was designed in part to address that.

How Close is Too Close?

The sabbatical afforded my wife and I the opportunity to spend the longest period of uninterrupted time alone together we have ever enjoyed in our 33 years of marriage. That could be a really good thing or a really challenging thing. What would she think and how would she feel when after several weeks I’m still not leaving for work?

The truth be known, in total, we spent 5 weeks of the summer break together in the confined space of a medium sized RV… and (wait for it) she never kicked me out – not once! It turns out it was a really good thing. We enjoyed each other’s undivided attention whenever we wanted. We hiked together, fly-fished together, read together, rode bikes together, took in scenery together, rode ATV’s together, saw wild life together, swam together, laughed together, prayed together, cried together and rode a zip-line together (and much more). It helps when you have developed some mutual interests over the years.

What did you learn?

I learned we can pray together much more than we have.

I learned I can listen more carefully than I have.

I learned we can reflect more deeply upon truth together than we have.

I learned mentally and emotionally “being there” is much better than simply physically being there.

I learned we can talk about future plans and desires more frequently than we have.

I learned I need to find a way not to loose this level of intimacy.

I learned I have a tremendous friend and partner in my wife.

I learned watching Sheri scream on a zip-line is LOADS of fun.


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One of my wife’s favorite songs from our youth was “You’ve Got a Friend” as recorded by Carole King. Some of the words include:

When you’re down in troubles
And you need some love and care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you got to do is call
And I’ll be there
Yes I will
You’ve got a friend

Christ is the only unwavering and unchanging friend we will ever have. He is the one who truly knows EVERYTHING about us there is to know and yet still loves us. But He comes to us via other believers. His word of grace He has chosen to dispense through human beings. We are the lips, hands and feet of Christ, as it were. Christian marriage is the most intimate of relationships in which Christ our friend comes to us in our spouse. Truly, when this is the case, “two are better than one.”

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