You have them. Well-meaning people in your life who think that you need to read "the forward." Usually embedded several levels deep in an email, they range from the funny (or supposed to be) to the patriotic. They are often sentimental, occasionally misguided, and - when it comes to Christian things - seem to be more often than not untrue. Sometimes they are several years old, and simply making the latest round by means of someone who recently got email.
There is an assumption that pastors need to read these things. I've hinted to our people that I don't, but occasionally I'll get them anyway. In many cases they are a mixture of Bible and pro-America politics. I am a conservative Republican, but I consider this blend of patriotism and faith to be a hugely misguided distraction to biblical Christianity.
At any rate, after being the recipient of yet another forward of this nature, I did what I usually do - I check the internet hoax sites and forward the correction to the person who sent me the story. I do this for several reasons. First, in many cases well-meaning people are perpetuating a story that is false. Second, I would like to encourage them to not believe everything that is sent to them, and finally, I want to teach them how to research this stuff for themselves.
In dealing with the latest forward this morning, I encountered this article which ought to be printed as a bulletin insert in our church publications. I hope you can make use of it. http://www.crivoice.org/urbanlegend.html. The parts the interested me were more of his comments about forwarding email without thinking. I haven't documented the accuracy of his rebuttal to the original post.
I had intended to post another chapter of DA Carson's book about prayer, but this week was a bit compressed. I had my first visit to my Irish friend Colon O'Scoppy on Friday, so between the "prep" day and "the day" itself, my week was shortened. I actually had my sermon done two days early. More from Carson's book next week.
When I was in Bible College I worked in my home church's Christian Bookstore. It was around the time that some major events took place in the Christian publishing world. I can remember that The Living Bible and the New American Standard Bible were "new." We sold quite a few of both of these translations. But probably the biggest seller was Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth. Looking back, Lindsey's book was more sensational than scholarly, but I will give him credit for this: he raised people's awareness of Christ's return.
The church in which I grew up and the two churches in which I have served have all had a dispensational orientation. I can remember when my present church was involved with 7 or 8 other local churches in a Prophecy Conference. We had some of the finest pastors and teachers speak on things related to Bible prophecy. Of course there was the occasional sensationalist speaker, but in the main these men were simply trying to communicate the importance of eschatology.
I was reminded of that while continuing my reading of A Call to Spiritual Reformation. Carson writes:
We are losing our anticipation of the Lord's return, the anticipation that Paul shows is basic to his thought. Even though we do not disavow central truths, for many of us their power has been eviscerated. The prospect of the Lord's return in glory, the anticipation of the wrap-up of the universe as we know it, the confidence that there will be a final and irrevocable division between the just and the unjust - these have become merely credal points for us, instead of ultimate realities that even now are life transforming.
The loss is great. It means that instead of investing in the bank of heaven, where "moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matt. 6:20), we may be seduced into devoting almost all of our time, energy, and money to the merely temporal and ephemeral.
He then asks:
When was the last time you heard a profoundly biblical and telling sermon on the second coming? (italics mine)
As he concludes this chapter, he shows how connected a commitment to eternity and Christian growth are. Again, highly recommended.
For a variety of reasons, it's been a little over a week since I have been able to read any more of DA Carson's book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation. But this morning I was able to work through chapter 2: The Framework of Prayer, based on 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.
In the opening part of this chapter, Carson talks about being thankful. Two paragraphs are worth quoting:
For what do we commonly give thanks? We say grace at meals, thanking God for our food; we give thanks when we receive material blessings - when the mortgage we've applied for comes through, or when we first turn on the ignition in a car we've just purchased. We may sigh a prayer of sweaty thanks after a near miss on the highway; we may utter a prayer of sincere and fervent thanks when we recover from a serious illness. We may actually offer brief thanksgiving when we hear that someone we know has recently become converted. But by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value. (page 41)
For what have we thanked God recently? Have we gone over a list of members at our local church, say, or over a list of Christian workers, and quietly thanked God for signs of grace in their lives? Do we make it a matter of praise to God when we observe evidence in one another of growing conformity to Christ, exemplified in trust, reliability, love, and genuine spiritual stamina? (page 44)
The first paragraph - 'nuff said. But let me share a comment about the second.
I have been praying for the health and well-being of our church, and for the church to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. I have been praying that the church would deepen, but also grow numerically. Praying about those things is an open admission that change is needed. And there is nothing wrong with that! Change should be taking place until we get to Heaven.
What struck me about what Carson says in this second paragraph that I've quoted is that as I have been praying through our church directory, I find myself having a lot to thank God for. There are a lot of people who have been good examples, busy in work for the Gospel, faithful, etc. Thanksgiving, then, balances my intercession for the church. While I earnestly want to see God at work in the lives of people, thanksgiving reminds me that He is in fact already at work. While growth is needed, growth is already taking place. While people need to mature, maturity is already evident in many people.
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I'm taking a one-week hiatus from Romans this Sunday. In preaching the early part of Romans 7, dealing with our relationship to the Law, it occurred to me that it might be of help to our people if I spoke about the broader issue of how Christians relate to the Old Testament. This might seem more ideally suited for a classroom, but preaching is teaching. So that's what I'll be doing this Sunday.
Many Christians I talk with will readily admit that prayer is not their strong point. If you step back, it seems a bit odd that prayer should be so hard. We are, afterall, given the privilege of privileges - being able to talk to the Creator and Lord of the universe. Why is it so hard?
In my own experience, I point to distraction as the major culprit. Whether I pray in a quiet place or not, there are inner and outer distractions. The multitude of things to do, interruptions, etc. all make staying focused on prayer hard work.
Some of you in more liturgical churches may scratch your heads at this, but independent evangelical churches have tended to shy away from anything that smacks of formalism, including praying the Lord's prayer. But I have found that following that prayer - whether verbatim or as an outline - is a good way to begin to focus my praying for the day. I've also picked up a tip that Mark Dever shares in his book The Deliberate Church - praying through the church directory. Doing this for a couple of weeks has been so fruitful to me that I encouraged our Elders to begin the practice.
I look around and see evangelicalism is disarray. I see my own people struggling with basic areas of discipleship and with how to live for Christ in a world that all but swallows up our being Christians. I am more convinced that any change in direction - corporately or individually - will come through prayer. I've told our people several times that I am not sure how prayer "works" but I know that it does.
My reading project at the moment is the book A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson. I began reading the book late last week and unfortunately have not had time to do anything with it this week (I am preaching from Romans 7, and those of you who have done that will immediately understand why I've not been reading anything else!). But his first chapter scanned areas of need within the church and within lives of Christian people, and presented the case that prayer was the most urgent need of all. I'd recommend the book, based on the first chapter alone.
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Anyone listen to their sermons via iTunes? I was given an iPod by my brother over a year ago, and use it daily. Because of that, iTunes is my default music/media player. If you have any mp3's of your sermons, listen to them in iTunes and check out the category that iTunes puts them in. Mine: the Blues. Ha!!
If you are interested in the writings of Martin Luther, check out this site devoted to them.