Challies Reading Challenge

 

Not only do we wish to read the Bible more as Christians, but I’m fairly certain that as Christians many of us wish to read more books in general. I was looking over the books I read in 2015, and I found myself getting into a rut. It was time for a change.

While I did read a number of theology books, I also found myself reading a lot of leadership books. When it came to personal reading, I read either one of two things American history specifically the Civil War, and the history and or tactics of soccer. I need to diversify!  I can’t get into a routine I’m just reading things that I enjoy.  I also need to make sure that I’m reading books from a wide range of topics and genres that will also be good for me.

Enter the 2016 Reading Challenge from Tim Challies.  He has developed reading plans for light readers to voracious readers.  With this, he provides suggestions for reading different genres.

Take a look and see what you think.  What other type of book reading plans do you have?

 

 

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The One Factor in Helping Students Retain Faith After High School

0e2241705_1372095385_saving-leonardo-nancy-pearceyNancy Pearcey challenges me more than any other in showing the need of having a strong Christian worldview, but also interacting with other non-Christian worldviews. In Pearcey’s book Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning, Pearcey cited a study that showed the one factor which helped students keep their faith after high school.  What was it?

A recent study by Fuller Seminary found that when teens graduate from high school, they often “graduate from God”as well. But the researchers also discovered one factor that proved most effective in helping young people retain their Christian convictions. What would you expect it to be? More prayer? More Bible study? As important as those things are, surprisingly, the most significant factor was whether they had a safe place to wrestle with doubts and questions before leaving home. The study concluded, “The more college students felt that they had the opportunity to express their doubt while they were in high school, the higher [their] levels of faith maturity and spiritual maturity.”

In other words, the only way teens become truly “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks”(1 Pet. 3:15) is by wrestling personally with the questions.”

The challenge for our Christian homes and churches is to have these environments as ‘safe places to wrestle with doubts.’  I began wrestling at 15, and I’m thankful for having places where I could share some of my concerns and work through them.

Pastors, give your student pastors the room to help students explore the issues of the faith that trouble them.  Student pastors, given your students room to express those issues.  Better now than later while you still have influence!

Can You Find Joy in Your Denomination?

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I identify and associate with a denomination called Southern Baptists, of which I make no apology.

On January 31st, I’ll be leading a 90-minute seminar called, What is a Baptist?  When you come into a church that has Baptist in the name, or at least is Baptist in practice, what does that mean?  And should it matter, when so many pundits claim that denominational life is a thing of the past?

Leading with joy means embracing who you are with conviction and care. It’s important. So lean into it!

What denomination do you belong to, if any?  Why or why not?

Merry Christmas, Eve!

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“Virgin Mary Consoles Eve” by Grace Remington

Whereas Eve (and Adam) ushered in the curse of sin into the world, Mary would bring forth one who would save His people from their sins (Genesis 3:15, Matthew 1:21-23).

That makes Christmas very merry indeed!

Christmas Has Its Cradle

cross_cradle12Christmas has its cradle,
where a baby cried
Did the lantern’s shadow
show Him crucified?
Did He forsee darkly
His life’s willing loss?

Christmas has its cradle
and Easter has its cross
Christmas has its cradle,
shepherds came to see
Little Son of Mary,
Lamb of God to be
Had His Father warned Him,
none would spare Him room
Save in the Christmas cradle
or in the Easter tomb

Christmas has its cradle,
wise men came to bring
Myrr and gold and incense,
off’rings for a King
Myrrh alone stayed with Him,
death’s balm for this Boy
From the Christmas cradle
and to His Easter joy

Christmas has its cradle,
where that Baby cried
In the Easter garden,
Christ lay, crucified
When death’s pow’r was conquered,
God’s life through Him poured
Christmas has its cradle
and Easter has its Lord!

(Rae Whitney)

Leading Worship with Joy, Part 2: In Harmony with Christ and Culture

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Last time we dove into this topic, we looked at the importance of connecting the music we sing with the heritage of generations past. Needless to say, that generated a lot of conversation. One person who read the article believe that I was proposing that we seeing certain older hymns because it’s something we’ve always done. To be honest, I could see where she was coming from. With music, a comfort level exists in singing songs that has transcended not just the generations of the universal Church, but also the seasons of our life. Certain songs hold sway over us simply because such wonderful memories among the people of God are associated with those particular songs. I have them, and you do as well.

But in listening to these particular songs, especially songs that may be found in our hymnals from generations past, we need to realize that the music that accompanies the text was written with the culture in mind for the time it was written. So for instance, the tune from a Mighty Fortress is our God (EIN FESTE BURG) was taken from a bar tune, as were the majority of Fanny Crosby’s hymns. But even if the music was not taken from a particular cultural area, the tunes that were written to the songs were written with that culture in mind. In other words, we need to see that the text and the text alone or with transcend the cultures, not the tunes. But this is difficult since the tunes are so closely associated with the text, that is almost seen is heresy and sacrilege if we were to separate the two.

Recently, I pulled out Casting CrownsChristmas album. I didn’t realize that it was released back in 2008, but I was amazed at how well they brought new tunes to traditional Christmas text and how well they work. They sought to honor the text and to accompany those texts well, all the while providing an appropriate and timely tune to those traditional texts. I believe they and those like them understand what the original hymn writers of those original texts understood. They need to communicate to the culture in which they live, not to the culture of Christmases past or of generations past. Why? Those generations of days gone by are gone by. We live in this generation, and are working to try to reach this generation with the timeless gospel.

This is why I use the word harmony in dealing with this particular topic. We want the text to harmonize with what Christ taught us, but we want the tunes and the arrangements to harmonize with the culture Christ has called us to reach.  We want familiar music to be the vehicle for texts that exalt the resplendent Christ.  R.C. Sproul notes:

Music in worship should not familiarize God to me; rather, it should stimulate the soul to a posture of adoration. One of the most popular praise songs of recent years is “Majesty.” Its popularity may have something to do with the sound of the music itself , but the song also has wonderful words. Christians are hungry for a way to express a sense of the majesty of God. Good, biblically sound music is a marvelous enhancement to that end.

This must stay crystal clear: harmonizing Christ and culture does not mean lowering His substance, His splendor or His message.  We do not minimize Christ in order to maximize the culture’s response to us.  That does nothing to help the culture know who the true Christ and the true message of salvation is–in fact, it’s detrimental!

I don’t believe this should serve as a concern to the various generations who may have fallen in love with text in tune. After all, when instrumental pieces played during the service and a particular familiar tune is played, with no text being spoken their son, that tune brings forth the message of that particular him or song in our hearts and in our minds.

We must tread very carefully with this.  Never underestimate the power and the connection music, especially church music, provides.  What I’ve found is that, especially in established churches, preserving the melody of a particular hymn, while changing the harmonies and the instrumentation of that hymn to something that speaks to the generation we’re called to reach I believe will alleviate most concerns.  You will still have those who believe only organ and piano are appropriate, and that the hymnal is the 67th book of the Bible, inspired by God Himself.

So, again: We want the text to harmonize with what Christ taught us, but we want the tunes and the arrangements to harmonize with the culture Christ has called us to reach.  

What are ways you’re working to make this a reality in your church?

 

The Magi or the Scribes: Will We Act on What He’s Spoken?

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Do you know, dear church leader and churchgoer, how easy it is to attend a service and hear the Word for years, knowing the Word of the Lord but not the Lord of the Word?

First John 2:2-6 says:

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

You see, God speaks and acts.  A step further is that God speaks, God acts, and therefore we must act on what God has spoken!  Let’s go one step further:  God speaks, God acts, and therefore we want to act on what God has spoken.  Eric Routley wrote a book a number of years ago called “Duty and Delight.”  But we can say this, but we could also look at the delight of duty.

Christ came out of duty to His Father for the express purpose of saving His people from their sin through His sacrifice on the cross.  Repeatedly, he spoke of delighting to do His Father’s will.  And He did even to the point of death on a cross.  Through this delight in duty, Christ spoke and acted on all He spoke—with the greatest action being His resurrection from the dead. As Christ spoke and acted, so we act on what He’s spoken (and what He did).

In reading through Matthew 2:1-12, we see the differences between the reaction of the Magi and the scribes when confronted by the truth of Scripture.  In Numbers 24:17 told of a star that would come to show when the Messiah would come.  The Magi, who likely learned much of the Old Testament from Daniel in the 500s BC while the people of Israel were in Exile.  The Magi responded and acted on what God had said.  When the Magi continued on after their encounter with King Herod in Jerusalem with what they knew, the star they saw at the beginning of their journey arose again.  Notice their response:  “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great joy.”  God speaks, He acts.  We act on what He’s spoken.  The result?  Joy!

When the chief priests and scribes heard the Word and saw that the possibilities of this fulfillment was fulfilled, they were troubled.  So when God speaks, He acts.  But when we fail to act on what He’s spoken, the result?  Fear! They had attached themselves to the wrong King, even using God’s Word about His anointed King as an opening to be used to eliminate His anointed King as a toddler!  And as the Magi trusted the written Word, they were more open to trust the Word spoken to them leading from heaven, “being warned in a dream to return to Herod, they departed their own country by another way” (2:12).  But without trusting the written Word, what guidance will our hearts receive during the minutes and days and hours as we go about the lives God has given to us? 

But the joyous truth is that our culture around us, regardless of their current worldview, are waiting for us to go and tell them about the truth of forgiveness, eternal life, and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Sure, some will reject, but others are waiting–as the Magi were waiting without realize it, but a core still responded and held on to this for 500 years.  Some have had enough of Jesus (to their peril), but others need to know and believe that Jesus is enough.  That’s what they are thirsty for.  And God will show Himself that what He has spoken, he will act on.  But will we act on what He has spoken?

How Furniture in Your Church Brings Joy

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Did you know that furniture matters, especially in a church?  When you come into this room, either as a guest or a long-time member of ARBC, you may come into this place looking for specific pieces of furniture.  Do you know what pieces of furniture most look for?  A piano?  Choir loft?  Musical instruments?   This is very understandable.  With so many musical styles found in church, many of us are looking for music stylings—and in the process we take for granted two pieces of furniture that stand right in the center:  the pulpit and the table.

The pulpit stands in the center because of what it represents:  God speaking through His Word, the Bible!  God has spoken about who He is, what He’s done in rescuing us from our sin, and what He aims to do through us!

And the table, found directly in front.  This is intentional:  God speaks (as shown in the pulpit) and God acts (as shown in the table) in doing all that was necessary in delivering us from our sin by sending His Son in the cradle so that He could go to the cross for our sins.  The pulpit and the table shows that what God speaks, He does.

So the next time you walk into a sanctuary (no, I just cannot get used to saying auditorium), before you look at anything else, look to the pulpit and the table.  In our worship tradition, both of these are (as was said earlier) in the center.  For the central word we have is His word (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17), and the central act of all Christianity was His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Who would have thought that furniture could bring such joy?

A Hymn for Preachers: Preach, Dear Men, the Word of God

This is the charge we have to keep!
To tell it strong before His sheep
And rouse the lost out of their sleep!
O preach, dear men, the Word of God!

Be ready, shepherds, to reprove
Exhort the church so it may move
To spread the truth, embraced with love!
O preach, dear men, the Word of God.

The world moves out with itching ears
That long to hear what they hold dear
And mute the Word that’s all too clear!
O preach, dear men, the Word of God!

With sober minds and patient hearts
We persevere as from the start
“Fulfill your calling — do your part!”
O preach, dear men, the Word of God!

L.M.

–Matthew R. Perry, © 2005

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