Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Brushfork Baptist Memories

This is a slideshow of several events of the past year at Brushfork Baptist Church. God is good!

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Back in the Saddle

A mutant amalgamation of Gene Autry’s and Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle Again” is the song that came to mind as I was thinking about this Sunday. When preaching through books as I do, sometimes it is necessary to take a break—especially through long books like John. Sometimes those breaks are necessary because of the attention span of pastor and/or people. But most of the time they come about because of events on the calendar like holidays.

At Brushfork, I started preaching through the book of John back in July. We had made it all the way through the third chapter when we were overtaken by the Christmas season. After five weeks away, we’re now ready to start up again in chapter 4.

I have been looking forward to preaching through this chapter for months. Evangelism will dominate the first few weeks as it will take a few sermons to work our way through the Woman at the Well passage. Then we will spend a few weeks diving into the rich subject of worship as we dwell on Jesus’ words in John 4:21-24. We will then take a couple more weeks to finish the chapter as we see Jesus’ evangelistic teaching to His disciples and the fruit that is harvested in Samaria. If the Lord wills, we will finish the chapter in March, so I can’t wait to get started.

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Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

1. Uzbekistan
Student Prays for Teacher Who Threatened Her
Ruth and her family have been through many years of struggle. People in their town make fun of them for their faith in Christ. “Please pray for me,” Ruth wrote in a 2008 e-mail to a VOM worker. “At school the teacher asked me to tell about the ancient Greek gods. I said, ‘There are no gods. There is only one God.’
“The teacher said to me, ‘Be quiet. And quit telling your fairy tales at school or I will take you to the principal and you will be expelled.’”
Ruth’s e-mail continued, “I feel sorry for the teacher. She is a good person, but she does not know that Jesus loves her. She has her own children. I wish I could tell them stories from the Bible. Please pray for my teacher.”

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

“Let Ev’ry Heart Prepare Him Room”

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your King comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, a colt the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).

How do you prepare for the coming of a King? If he were coming to our homes, the answer would be obvious: we would clean and scrub and straighten up so that everything everywhere seems to say, ‘Welcome!’

But how do we prepare our hearts to receive Him? Cleaning and scrubbing and straightening up are certainly in order, of course: confessing our sins and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness are serious and necessary preparations.

But then...another kind of preparation would seem to be in order, the kind of evident joy that really says ‘Welcome!’ in a glad and happy way. When Jesus came the first time, He came humbly, determined to submit totally to the will of God, all the way to dying for us on the cross – in order that we may receive Him with evident joy.

So let your preparation – including the scrubbing and cleaning and straightening up that takes place within your home and even your heart – be done in the spirit of the forgiveness He comes to bring, with joyful anticipation!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

When Isaac Watts published his Psalms of David in 1719, he did not intend this paraphrase of Psalm 98 to be a Christmas carol. His title was The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom. Composer Lowell Mason based his melody on themes from Handel’s Messiah.

Read Psalm 98

(Arden Mead, Repeat The Sounding Joy!: Advent Meditations On The Great Carols of Christmas. (Fenton: Creative Communications, 1988) pg. 12.)

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No Frills Airlines

A few weeks ago my oldest daughter and my father-in-law came to visit. They each flew in from different states, but we were able to arrange it so I could pick them both up at the Charlotte airport within a few hours of one another.

My daughter hadn’t flown since she was two years old. Needless to say, she didn’t remember much of that flight. She wishes she didn’t remember this one either. Her layover in Memphis was extended due to electrical problems on the plane—electrical problems they discovered AFTER they had already boarded. They promptly disembarked, went back to the terminal and watched as nothing happened to their plane. After a few minutes, they reboarded the same plane and took off. So much for building confidence. When she safely landed in Charlotte, she told me that the airline was now charging for luggage. I’m not talking about excess baggage. I’m not talking about the joker that carries on his whole apartment and takes up every available overhead compartment in the plane. I’m talking about one normal sized bag—$15! Well, maybe it was the cheap airline her cheap daddy bought her a ticket on—maybe it was my fault. After all, I’m a dad—everything’s somehow my fault, right?

Then my father-in-law landed. He hates to fly. The only reason I say that he hates to fly is because I can’t think of a stronger word—maybe detests or loathes. His adventure started on the runway as his plane was taxiing prior to takeoff. Apparently one of the passengers hated flying worse than my father-in-law because he decided it was better to have a heart attack than fly. So he did. It’s never a good thing when the flight attendant begins asking passengers if they are a doctor. I asked him if anyone said that they had stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but apparently no one on the plane had a sense of humor. Lack of humor aside, the plane taxied back to the terminal (bad word to use when discussing a heart attack victim) where paramedics removed the ailing passenger. Needless to say, the rest of the flight seemed anticlimactic. But when he landed in Charlotte, he told me that his airline also charged him $15 for luggage—and his bag was light! It was so light and squishy, I’m sure he could have stuffed it into the overhead. That is, as long as that same apartment-carrying joker wasn’t on his flight too.

It was after this great adventure that I saw the following video. Aren’t these the same airlines that the government bailed out a few years ago? If so, what will our auto industry be like in a few years?

By the way, after charging my daughter (me) another $15 to take her luggage back home on the return leg of her round trip, the baggage handlers apparently thought her bag was too heavy. They decided to lighten it for her by removing her freshly unwrapped digital camera. $15 certainly won’t get you what it used to!

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Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

Each day through the end of the year, I will be posting one of the top 10 “Bold Believers” stories of 2008, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs Kids of Courage.

2. Eritrea

Students Protest

High school students in Eritrea are required to spend time working for the military. Rules at the military camps say that students cannot read the Bible, pray at meals, or talk about their faith. People who break the rules may be punished harshly.

Yet many bold Christian students brought Bibles to one of the camps in 2008. Officials gathered all the Bibles and set them on fire. But eight of the Christians refused to be silent. They objected to the burning of the Bibles. Authorities locked up the eight protesting students in metal shipping containers.

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

Joy to the World

Luke 2:8-11 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Just imagine, you’re a young shepherd boy and it’s your first night to go with the men to tend the flocks. You try to hide your fear from the others, but after all, the nights are black except for the light of the camp fire and wolves and bears lurk in the darkness waiting to attack. Suddenly, the night sky is illuminated with brightness unlike any you’ve ever seen before, only adding to your fear. Just when you think your chest may explode with the pounding of your heart, a heavenly messenger declares a holy message, meant to calm all your fears.
Joy has come for all mankind is the angel’s message. Joy is an emotion you or the people of Israel hadn’t experienced in a long time. For 400 years God had remained silent and it must have seemed as if He would never speak again. But, speak He does, to you, with the greatest message of joy ever heard by human ears. That joy is wrapped up in the announcement of the birth of a babe in Bethlehem. This is not just any baby; this is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Just think, you are among the first to hear the wonderful message. The joy it brings is a magnificent blessing to you and to countless others who will hear and receive it throughout the ages until He comes again.
Let true joy, which only Jesus can bring, be the experience of you and your family during this Christmas Season and pray that it may spread to others around you.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Read In the New Year!

Since I’ve been talking about books I read in 2008 for the past few days, how about a look into the future? Here is a list of the first books I’m looking to dive into in 2009:

First Time Reads:

City of God, Augustine
Confessions, Augustine
God in the Dock, CS Lewis
Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards
Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, Walter Kaiser
Something from Francis Schaeffer

That ought to be enough to get started with!

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Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

Each day through the end of the year, I will be posting one of the top 10 “Bold Believers” stories of 2008, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs Kids of Courage.

3. Bangladesh:

Safe From Threats

Mamota lives at a hidden camp. Christians who are at risk of persecution stay at the camp. They live in dorms, go to school, and worship together. Mamota helps with chores at the camp, and she likes to jump rope for fun. Here is what she told a worker from The Voice of the Martyrs in 2008:

“I was born in 1992. I have three sisters and one brother. My father is an evangelist. He preaches the gospel to Muslims. Many Muslims do not want to hear the Good News about Jesus. They try to stop my dad from preaching. They threaten him to make him afraid so he will stop his work.

“One thing the Muslims said to him is that they could take me and marry me off to a Muslim boy and my father would never see me again. So my father brought me to this camp to live safely and to study. Here I am learning more about Jesus each day.”

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

The Coming of Christ Brings JOY

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
-Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV

One of the things the coming of Jesus very vividly points out to us is God's perspective on joy. Our fleshly nature believes that joy comes to us through creature comforts and fulfilled desires. Or we think of joy being something received by passively being entertained or pampered.
When God sent His own Son into the world, He chose that none of those things would be part of the circumstances surrounding His birth, or the rest of His earthly life. Instead, in the birth and life of Jesus, we see things from God's perspective: that joy isn't something to be grasped or attained to in this life at all. It is only received as a by-product of living in obedience to the will of God.
Joy comes not in receiving those things that make life easier here in the flesh, but in living successfully through all the difficult circumstances and lack of creature comforts here in the world. This is precisely because all those other things pale in comparison to the surpassing joy that awaits us in the life to come.
This flies in the face of our cultural American understanding of joy. Perhaps that is precisely because we do not have any real understanding of joy at all. Jesus came to bring us redemption through His blood, and restoration to fellowship with God through His never-ending priesthood, as the book of Hebrews attests. By living, dying and rising from the dead, all in obedience to the command of His Heavenly Father (John 6:38; 10:17-18), Jesus demonstrated for us that the pathway to joy is obedience to the will of God.
As the time nears to celebrate the birth of Jesus, may we recognize that God has already placed this wonderful gift before us, like a package wrapped and waiting to be opened. It is the gift of joy. Many will fail to receive it, because they will miss it in the rush to receive the things of this life. But there it is, set before us, just as it was set before our Lord Jesus, Himself.
Praise God, He was willing to endure all things to receive the joy that was set before Him. Now, because He persevered, His joy may be ours as well, as we run with patience the race that is set before us.

May the joy of the Lord be yours this Christmas Season!

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Why Me Lord?

The manuscript for tonight's sermon, "Why Me Lord?" is now available. Audio should be posted later in the week.

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Christmas Climax

Is this the end of the Christmas season? Or is it just a shadow of things to come? You can find the manuscript of this morning's sermon titled Christmas Climax here.

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Weelky Wordle!

Wonderful Weekly Wordle fwum Wevelation... couldn't help it. This is from this morning's sermon on Revelation 21:1-8 titled, "Christmas Climax."

Here's a preview of tonight's sermon on Psalm 8 titled, "Why Me Lord?"

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Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

Each day through the end of the year, I will be posting one of the top 10 “Bold Believers” stories of 2008, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs Kids of Courage.

4. ID Card Hassles

Dina is a 14-year-old Christian who lives in Egypt. “She loves Jesus so much,” said her father, Peter. When Dina is 16, she will be required to get an official ID card like other youth in Egypt. The card will tell her religion. Dina’s card will say she is a Muslim, unless her father can get their cards changed.

Peter was born a Muslim, so his ID card says “Muslim” on it. Peter went to court to try to change his card after he became a Christian. Few Christians in Egypt have tried to change their cards. Those who try to leave Islam are often persecuted in Egypt and other Muslim countries.
The children of Muslims are considered Muslims even if they become Christians. Dina has been forced to take classes on Islam at school like Muslim students have to do. It will be difficult for her to marry a Christian someday if she is officially a Muslim. Dina and Peter hope Christians will pray for them while they continue their fight in court. (Sources include: Compass Direct and Daily News Egypt)

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

Joy – Christmas

The words ‘joy’ and ‘Christmas’ are synonymous for many people. Christmas is a joyous time of year. The bright lights, the colorful decorations, the beautifully wrapped packages, the brilliant shades of red and green, the Christmas carols, songs and stories, all the sights and sounds of Christmas ring with Joy!!

Christmas is a joyous time! Our celebration of Christmas – the birth of our Christ should be a joyous occasion. The very first Christmas was a time of joy for the angel of the Lord who told the shepherds about Christ’s birth, “…I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all people.” (Luke 2:10 NIV).

It was a joyous time for the shepherds when they found the Christ, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, …” (Luke 2:20 NIV). It was a joyful time for the Magi who visited the Christ child, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matt. 2:10 NIV).

Through the Christmas stories recorded in Matthew and Luke there is a sense of excitement, anticipation, and joy. Much like what we experience now in our celebration of Christmas.

But wait just a minute. On that first Christmas there were no Christmas trees with bright lights and colorful decorations. There were no presents and toys for all the girls and boys. There were no warm family gatherings in comfortable settings with carols being sung by all. Remember, Jesus was born in a stable where animals were fed. How did the angels, the shepherds, and the wise men have joy on that first Christmas and what can we learn from them?

They had joy at Christmas because they were more concerned about what they were giving instead of what they were getting.

The angels gave their praise to Christ as they told of His birth.
The shepherds gave their presence to Christ as they visited Him at the stable.
The wise men gave their possessions to Christ as they placed their gifts before Him.
To have real joy at Christmas you must answer the question, “What are you going to give Christ this Christmas?

That may be a tough question to answer. After all isn’t He the One who truly has everything. Yes, that is right, Christ has everything and doesn’t need anything from us. What He wants from us is us.

Christian Rossetti said it well in her poem,
“What shall I give Him poor as I am,
If I were a shepherd I would give Him a lamb.
If I were a wise man I would do my part.
What shall I give Him, I’ll give Him my heart.”

That is what Christ wants from us in our hearts. And when we give Him our hearts we will have the true joy of Christmas. Then we can join the song writer in singing, “Joy to the world the Lord has come!!”

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Reader In Chief

Since we're on the favorite year-end subject of books, I thought you might be interested in our current president's reading habits. If you have fallen for the media mischaracterizations, you might be surprised!

Makes the, "Who's in your iPod" question asked of the candidates during the election seem pretty silly, doesn't it?

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Best Reads of 2008

Not all of the books I read in 2008 were worth reading. Some were quite worthless, but the majority weren’t. Several of the classics on my 2008 list were re-reads, so I have not included them here. Here is a list of the Best Reads of 2008:

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Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

Each day through the end of the year, I will be posting one of the top 10 “Bold Believers” stories of 2008, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs Kids of Courage.

5. North Korea:

College Kids Share Secret DVDs

Anyone caught reading, selling, or passing out Bibles in North Korea can go to jail. Christians smuggled Bibles and Christian DVDs in sacks of flour shipped to North Korea. Students at a college watched the DVDs, read the Bibles, and shared them with friends. Ten students were arrested, just for seeking the truth about Jesus.

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

Jesus Is Savior

Jesus Christ left the comforts of the most perfect Heaven to come to earth that He might be Savior to mankind. He left perfection to come and walk among imperfection upon this earth. Yet He did so with a purpose, to be Savior to all who would place their faith and trust in Him alone.

Savior, an exalted title, means that Jesus provided the way out of the crazy mess of this world caused by sin. Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior. There is no other to do what Jesus did to become Savior. As Savior, Jesus brings Salvation which no one else can possibly do.

As we celebrate this Christmas season we should think that the one brought into this world in a humble stable was destined to become the Savior who would take away the sins of all who believe and repent. What an incredible celebration for us.
We thank you Lord today that Jesus came to rescue us from a life in bondage to sin. By allowing Jesus to become our Savior, we can know that we have eternal life in Him alone. That truly is something to celebrate. What an incredible gift from God.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

How I Fell Short

Well, I blew it. Around this time last year I set a goal for myself. It didn’t have anything to do with treadmills or exercise bikes or anything ridiculously grueling like that. Instead, it had to do with something I love—books. For some reason, I had the bright idea that it would be good to read 100 books this year. As I said, I blew it. I was far more successful than I would have been if my goal would have had anything to do with the aforementioned instruments of medieval-style torture. But nevertheless, I still blew it.

But, rather than wallow in my failure, I thought I would share a list of the books I did read this year. Some were short, some were long. Some were good, some were bad (some were wretched). Some were re-reads. Later this week I’ll share my top 10 favorites, but that’s not what this list is about. This is simply a list of what I read—please don’t think it’s a recommendation list. That’ll come later.

Here we go:

1. The Formation of Christian Doctrine, Malcom Yarnell
2. Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper
3. The Art of Manfishing, Thomas Boston
4. The Anabaptist Story, William Estep
5. Preaching & Preachers, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
6. Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis
7. Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission; Abraham Friesen
8. The Art of Prophesying, William Perkins
9. Greek for the Rest of Us, Mounce
10. The Murder of Jesus, John MacArthur
11. The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer
12. The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
13. Culture Shift, Albert Mohler
14. An Anabaptist View of the Church, Franklin Littrell
15. Him We Proclaim, Dennis Johnson
16. Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis
17. Jesus: The Greatest Life of All, Charles Swindoll
18. Brothers We Are Not Professionals, John Piper
19. Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor. D.A. Carson
20. The Darkness and the Dawn, Charles Swindoll
21. Christianity and History, Herbert Butterfield
22. The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
23. Three Central Issues/Dispensationalism, Darrell Bock
24. Why Revival Tarries, Leonard Ravenhill
25. The Trillion Dollar Meltdown, Charles Morris
26. How to Develop a Powerful Prayer Life, Gregory Frizzell
27. Remarriage After Divorce—Three Views
28. Children and Conversion, Clifford Ingle
29. Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
30. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, CS Lewis
31. The Silver Chair, CS Lewis
32. The Last Battle, CS Lewis
33. The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis
34. The Way of the Didache, William Varner
35. The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman
36. Prayer and the Knowledge of God, Graeme Goldsworthy
37. Preaching With Passion, Alex Montoya
38. Comfortably Numb, Charles Barber
39. The Effective Invitation, Alan Streett
40. The Crisis of Islam, Bernard Lewis
41. Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, Ken & Barbara Hughes
42. The Father’s Guide to the Meaning of Life, Joe Kita
43. The American Evangelical Story, Douglas Sweeney
44. Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal, David Dockery
45. A Passion for God (AW Tozer), Lyle Dorsett
46. The Welsh Revival, Thomas Phillips
47. Desiring God, John Piper
48. Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, Clendenen and Waggoner
49. Biblical Patterns for Powerful Church Prayer Meetings, Gregory Frizzell
50. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Mark Dever
51. Desire and Deceit, R. Albert Mohler
52. Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer
53. A Tale of Two Sons, John MacArthur
54. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, John Piper
55. Environmental Stewardship, Action Institute
56. Jesus Made In America, Stephen Nichols
57. Love Covers, Paul Billheimer
58. When God Comes to Church, Steve Gaines
59. Of Paradise and Power, Robert Kagan
60. The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
61. A God Entranced Vision of All Things—The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, John Piper
62. Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin
63. Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones
64. This Momentary Marriage, John Piper
65. Spectacular Sins, John Piper
66. Lives Given, Not Taken, Erich Bridges
67. The Purpose of Christmas, Rick Warren

Here’s to next year and hopefully less bad books and more good books!

Read more »

Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

Each day through the end of the year, I will be posting one of the top 10 “Bold Believers” stories of 2008, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs Kids of Courage.

6. India:

VBS Interrupted

About 60 children attended a three-day Vacation Bible School in India’s state of Karnataka. As the children worshipped, 35 Hindu radicals forced their way into the VBS hut. The invaders chanted Hindu slogans as they tore up the hut. They accused the pastor of “forcing” Hindu children to become Christians.

The radicals chased the children and damaged Bibles. The Christians did not complain to the police. They were afraid that the Hindus and the police might cause them worse trouble if they complained.

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

The Way: John 14:6

Jesus came to show us the way to Heaven.

A little boy had been talking to his father on day about going to Disneyland. During the conversation his father told him the only way we can go to Disneyland is when Grandpa croaks.
The little boy went to his Grandpa later and said, “Grandpa, make a sound like a frog.”

His Grandpa said, “Son I can’t make that kind of a sound.” The little boy insisted and Grandpa said, “Why do you want me to make a sound like a frog?” The little boy said, “Well Daddy says the only way to go to Disneyland is when Grandpa croaks.”

Sometimes people decide to go on a trip. Usually they will get out a map and find the best way to travel to their destination before they leave. Let me encourage you to realize that Heaven is the most important place of all that one should want to go to. Of course, you must know the way!

In John 14, Jesus told the disciples that He was going to the Father’s house and prepare a place for them. He also said, “You know the way to this place.” Thomas, one of the disciples said, “We do not know the way to get there. Jesus said, “I am the Way.” In another Scripture Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father except through me.”

There are many ways to get to Disneyland, but there is only one way to Heaven. That’s the reason Jesus came to us, to forgive our sin and show us the only way to Heaven. If you want to go to Heaven then you must receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Pray this prayer:
“Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner. I believe you died in my place to forgive all my sin. I ask
you now to be my Savior.”

Romans 10:13 says, “Whosoever call on the name of the Lord will be saved.This Christmas celebrate Jesus, He is your only way, “The Way” to Heaven.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

Each day through the end of the year, I will be posting one of the top 10 “Bold Believers” stories of 2008, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs Kids of Courage.

7. Blessing and Goodness

Blessing Justine is 13 years old. She lives at the Stephen Center in Nigeria. The Stephen Center helps children who need a place to live and a school to go to. Blessing Justine came to the center six years ago. But she was not happy there. She tried to go to the police station to ask the police to take her home. Blessing said, “I was a little girl and I cried all day and said, ‘Take me back home!’”

The kind Christians at the Stephen Center helped Blessing Justine learn to like her new home. The other children helped her, too. They understood her feelings. Like Blessing Justine, many of them have no father. They were left fatherless after radical Muslim rioters attacked their Christian neighbors. The Voice of the Martyrs started the Stephen Center to help these children.

Blessing is a good student. She would like to be a veterinarian someday. But she has not forgotten what it is like to be new and scared. Now Blessing is helping a younger student, 5-year-old Goodness Akalonu. She helps Goodness get used to life at the Stephen Center. Blessing said, “She likes to be talked to with a soft voice. She is a quiet and gentle girl, and she is brilliant.” Blessing calls Goodness her “school daughter.” When Goodness gets older, maybe she will help a younger student.

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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Merry Christmas!

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

Why Did Jesus have to Come: Reason #1

Why did Jesus have to come? So far we have discussed how Jesus brought a new and better covenant, how He undid what Adam had done, how He came to be the King of Kings, and how He came to be our Perfect High Priest so that we could have salvation.

But there is another reason. This reason can be stated in one word and that word also describes God.

Read John 3:16

The number one reason Jesus had to leave heaven and come to earth as a man is “love”. This is the very nature of love. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” So God naturally poured out to us love.

“For God so loved the world” – The word “so” here could be translated as “thusly”. This was no so much an amount of love but a way of loving. “God thus Loved”

Ask your children about some of the things that they love. How can they show their love for that?

God’s love is a giving love!! “For God so loved the world that He gave”
In this love God gave the most precious thing – His Son, the greatest Treasure.

Ask your children to think of the item or person that they love the most. Now ask them to think of a person who has done something bad to them. (This could be the person who has made them the most mad or sad in their life).

Now ask them, would you give that thing you most love to this person who has made you mad or sad?

God’s love is not only seen in the infinite value of what was given, but also in the rebelliousness of whom He gives Jesus for. We had turned away from God. We had committed treason. We deserved judgment but God instead gave the greatest treasure the world has ever seen.

Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Think of this amazing love that God has given us. Think of this greatest gift of love that has ever been given.
What could we give this year that would show how thankful we are to God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave” – We are no more like God than when we give.
This year lets give back to God a portion of that love that He has poured on us, and let us also show some of Jesus’ love to others around us. We will be more like Jesus and we will please Jesus when we give of His love to others

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Candlelight Service

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Burping Baby Jesus?

Enjoy the following insight from Noel Piper:

"The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes." Really? Let's not forget that the Lord Jesus was also the human newborn baby Jesus, as we're reminded in one of the best Christmas books ever—The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Imogene had the baby doll but she wasn't carrying it in the way she was supposed to, cradled in her arms. She had it slung up over her shoulder, and before she put it in the manger she thumped it twice on the back.

I heard Alice gasp and she poked me. "I don't think it's very nice to burp the baby Jesus," she whispered, "as if he had colic." Then she poked me again. "Do you suppose he could have had colic?"

I said, "I don't know why not," and I didn't. He could have had colic, or been fussy, or hungry like any other baby. After all, that was the whole point of Jesus—that he didn't come down on a cloud like something out of "Amazing Comics," but that he was born and lived...a real person. (73-74)
Luke 2:10

And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."

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Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

Each day through the end of the year, I will be posting one of the top 10 “Bold Believers” stories of 2008, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs Kids of Courage.

8. United States:

Student Stopped from Sharing Scripture

Fifteen-year-old Stephen C. of New Jersey traveled to China with his grandfather in 2008 during the Olympics. But they didn’t go to the Olympics. Instead, they and two others in their group carried Bibles into the country to share with Christians. China’s government prints Bibles, but there aren’t enough for all the Christians there.

Stephen carried about 100 Bibles in his suitcase. The Bibles never got to the Chinese Christians. Airport officials stopped Stephen’s group and refused to let them take the Bibles out of the airport. They took Stephen and the others into a room and questioned them. The Americans stayed in the airport for more than 20 hours. They left after they found out about a 2007 law that says visitors may bring only one Bible into China. The Word of God tells Christians to share the gospel with people in all nations (Matthew 28:19, 20).

Stephen hopes to be a professional skateboarding photographer someday. He would also like to visit other countries in the service of the Lord. He says the trip to China helped him grow spiritually, and he recommends that other kids go on missions trips. “It helps you see things differently,” Stephen said.

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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Dancing Baptists...

Just another ho hum Christmas at the Drake household...

Click here for a behind the scenes look--and don't tell the deacons!

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

“Behold, Your Light Has Come”

Materials Needed: flashlight, candle and matches (This devotion works best if done at night)

It’s finally Christmas Eve!!! Can you believe it? Tomorrow when we wake up, we will be able to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the love that God gave to us.

But tonight, lets talk about darkness and light. (Turn off all the lights but have the flashlight handy in case if of the kids get scared.)

Turn the lights back on and say something like, “Its scary to be in the dark isn’t it? Are any of you afraid of the dark? (Let them know that even you are a little afraid of the dark). Ask them how it would feel if they had to live their whole life in darkness.

The Bible tells us that mankind was in darkness because of the bad things we had done.

Read John 1:1-5

How are we in darkness? Romans 3:23 tells us that everyone has sinned (disobeyed God). Sin brings to us an eternal separation from God. This means we cannot live forever with God and be in the light of His glory. We are in a spiritual darkness. We cannot even hope to make it back to God on our own.

But God saw you in your sin (darkness) and loved you too much to leave you there.
All mankind was in spiritual darkness, so God sent a light. And John 1 told us that Jesus Christ was that light.

Isaiah 9:2 says of the birth of the Messiah, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

Read John 3:16-21

So the light has come and Jesus is that light. The gift has been given.

(Turn out all the lights again and ask your family to imagine how it would feel to live our whole life in spiritual darkness. Take your candle or if you are using the Advent wreath, light the center “Christ Candle”. Tell them we finally get to light the Christ candle)

As you light the white candle tell your family that Jesus came to bring us light and life. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to live in the light.

But now Jesus wants us to be light. Read Matthew 5:14-16

When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our sins (darkness) is forgiven and we have life and light in us. Jesus now wants us to shine His light to the dark world. If we tell people of Jesus’ love and show them Jesus’ love, we can make this a brighter world.

Sing “This Little Light of mine”

If you shine for Jesus, you will make a difference. We can be like the moon. It has no light of its own, but it lights the night by reflecting the light of the sun. We can reflect the Son’s light


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Prince of Preachers on the Prince of Peace

“The Son of man came.”

Strange the errand, and unique as the blessed Person who undertook it. Thus to come he stooped from the highest throne in glory down to the manger of Bethlehem; and on his part it was voluntary.

We are, as it were, thrust upon the stage of action; it is not of our will that we have come to live on this earth. Jesus had no need to have been born of the virgin. It was his own consent, his choice, his strong desire, that made him take upon himself our nature, of the seed of Abraham. He came voluntarily on an errand of mercy to the sons of men.

Dwell upon this thought for a moment, let it sink into your mind; he who was King of kings and Lord of lords, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, voluntarily, cheerfully descended that be might dwell among the sons of men, share their sorrows, and bear their sins, and yield himself up a sacrifice for them, the innocent victim of their intolerable guilt.

If the angels burst out in song on that first Christmas night, if they made heaven and earth ring with their sweet harmonies, much more may we who have a share in the redemptive work of the incarnate God burst out into song as the news greets us that heaven descends to earth, that God comes down to man, that the Infinite becomes an infant, that the Eternal, who hath life in himself, deigns to dwell amongst the dying sons of men.

Surely a way from earth to heaven will now be opened up, since there is a way from heaven to earth, so sacred, yet so simple. The same golden ladder that brings the blessed Visitant down to our humanity will take us up also to the divinity of God, to see him as our reconciled Father.

“The Son of man came.”[1]

[1]Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 62, Spurgeon's Sermons: Volume 62, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Spurgeon's Sermons (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998).

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Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

Each day through the end of the year, I will be posting one of the top 10 “Bold Believers” stories of 2008, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs Kids of Courage.

9. Indonesia:

Kids of Courage Help a Friend

In 2003, radical Muslims attacked four Christian villages in Indonesia. Masked men shot guns into the home of 7-year-old Hagasi and her family. A bullet shattered Hegasi’s left knee.
Hegasi has had several operations to repair her leg. Faithful Christian kids have helped her through her struggles. They sat by her bedside while she recovered from her surgeries. Sometimes they carried her outside so she could see the birds and the sky. The time they spent with her helped her get better.

Today Hegasi walks with special shoes that add inches to her shortened leg. “I surrender all to the Lord Jesus who provides all we need in life,” said Hegasi in 2008. She is thankful that the Lord even provided loyal friends to help her.

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

5 Reasons Jesus Had To Come:

Reason #2 Our Perfect High Priest

(Parents: You will need a flashlight and some toys)

Turn out the lights in the room (but its okay to leave the Christmas Tree lights on)

(Take the flashlight and shine it against a wall. Without letting the children see, place one of the toys in the light beam so that its shadow is upon the wall.) Have the kids guess what toy the shadow belongs to. Continue to do this with several toys.

After they have guessed all the shadows, ask them which they would rather have under the Christmas tree this year, some real toys or just shadows. (And of course they want real toys).

Remind the children that mankind had sinned against God and this had brought about a great separation between God and man. But in the Old Testament, God gave a shadow of how His grace would one day give us true forgiveness and let us live with Him forever and ever.

Read Hebrews 7:24-26

Explain what a High Priest did for the people (offered the sacrifice that would forgive his sins and the sins of the people)
As we can see here in these verses, Jesus came to be a much better High Priest. He is the perfect High Priest.
He lives forever ---- He saves completely ---- He is holy, blameless, and pure.

But what does this have to do with shadows?

Read Hebrews 8:1-6

Did you hear in verse 5 about shadows. What God gave to Moses was just a shadow of the reality in heaven. True forgiveness of sins could only take place by a perfect High Priest in the reality of heaven.

Jesus left heaven to come and as our High Priest offer the only true sacrifice that would forgive sins, Himself. He then arose from the dead and now works for us in the heaven. Jesus brought to us reality and so shadows must pass away.

Tell you children to imagine that they are lost in a large supermarket. They don’t know where mom and dad are. Fear sets in and they start to scream for help. They need someone to find them to save them. They look to the end of the isle and there is a shadow of Mom pushing the shopping buggy.
Ask them how they would feel at this point.

But won’t you feel so much better when you see the reality.
This Christmas, thank Jesus for bringing to us the reality of forgiveness and salvation. Now because of His sacrifice for us, we can live forever with each other and with God.
(End with prayer)

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Monday, December 22, 2008

WVCSB Pastor's Conference & Annual Meeting

Messages and Bible Studies from the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists 2008 Pastor's Conference and Annual Meeting are now available.

Speakers included:

Dr. Calvin Miller
Dr. David Nelson
Dr. Steven Smith
Dr. Terry Harper
Dr. Frank Cox
Bernard Toppings
Tim Kearney, WVCSB President

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One More Thought on Resources...

This time the thought isn't mine. Last week Dr. Al Mohler wrote a post on study Bibles that corresponds to my posts on commentaries over the past few days. I have yet to use the new ESV Study Bible, but I am currently on my second MacArthur Study Bible (I practically wore the first one out). Also, from what I have seen of the Apologetics Study Bible, it is an excellent resource as well.

Here is Dr. Mohler's take:

One of the most memorable purchases I made as a teenager was The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible in its original King James Version edition, complete with blue leather cover. I still have it, of course, though it now finds itself surrounded by a host of other Bibles on the shelf nearest to my desk. That study Bible opened the Word of God to me in a whole new way, helping me to make connections in the text and to see how subjects and themes run throughout the Bible....

Read the Full Article...

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Ten Bold Believers Stories from 2008

Each day through the end of the year, I will be posting one of the top 10 “Bold Believers” stories of 2008, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs Kids of Courage.

10. China
Bold Christian Families

The 2008 Olympics began on August 8 in Beijing, China. On August 10, Faan Yeen’s father, Hua Huiqi, was arrested on his way to church. On the same day, President Bush was in China visiting the church. According to Chinese Christians, ordinary Christians were not allowed at the church that day. Most of the people in the congregation were security officers, political workers, and people trained to pose as believers.

Faan Yeen is 12 years old. Her family has been bothered by the government many times before because they stand up for Jesus and for their rights as Chinese Christians. In 2002, their house was torn down to prepare for the Olympics. In 2007, Faan Yeen’s dad and grandmother were arrested and jailed. The police wanted Mr. Hua to help them spy on Chinese house church Christians. During the arrest, Faan Yeen’s grandmother held up her walking cane to protect herself. Her cane accidentally struck a police car. She was charged with “damaging public and private property.” Mr. Hua was released, but the police kept Faan Yeen’s grandmother in jail.

Faan Yeen no longer lives with her parents. The government has kept them from having a permanent home. Her parents do not know if she would be safe with them. A bold Christian family is taking care of her.

To protect their identities, the names of some of the people on this site and some identifying details have been changed. Some of the quotes and stories have been edited and paraphrased from the original sources for clarity.

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And They Begat a Christmas Song

A new kind of Christmas song. I've preached it, but I never imagined singing it!

I dare you to sing this in next year's Christmas cantata!

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

5 Reasons Jesus Had To Come

# 3 To Become Our King

Review Reason # 4 with your family: How Jesus came to undo what Adam had done.

Ask your children about famous kings they have heard about. (fictional ones are alright)
Ask your children what is a king supposed to do? (Help them with this concept).

Remember that God had created Adam and gave him dominion over creation. Adam was sort of like a King. But Adam handed all of that over to Satan and death.

Read 1 Corinthians 15:21-26

Notice in verse 25 – Jesus will be King.

We call Jesus the “Christ” – Christ means “anointed one” (same as Messiah in Hebrew). In the Old Testament the Kings would be anointed by a prophet of God. Jesus being the Christ means that He is our King.

But since Jesus is also God, He is the King of Kings.

Revelation 17:14 says, “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of Kings; and they that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful.”

When Jesus comes back again He will come as our great King. And when He comes back death will be destroyed and all who follow Him will live forever.

(Go back and review what a King does for his people. Ask the children how Jesus will do these things as King. Also tell them since Jesus is Kings of Kings, He will do so much more).

Ask your children if they have ever imagined being a prince or princess. Would it be fun to be a prince or princess?

Well guess what, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and King, as our personal Savior, we are adopted into God’s family.

Romans 8:14-15 says, “For as many are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we are forgiven and then adopted into God’s family. Jesus is our Lord and King, but also our Brother.

And brothers and sisters of the King are princes and princesses. (Make a big deal about having such royalty in your house).

Can you see why we really celebrate Christmas? Jesus did so much for us when He came. (Close in prayer).

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wordle Mania!

By popular demand...

Wordle of tonight's sermon on Titus 2:11-14 titled, Christmas Freedom

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Love

The world was filled with sin and death. All mankind was separated from God. God had created the world to love Him and give Him glory. Jesus was there at the creation (John 1, and Col. 1:15-17) and this world was created for Him. Jesus is the King of creation and I can only imagine what our great King thought when He looked down, on murder, hate, anger, immorality, war, selfishness and the worship of anything but the one true God. Jesus would have been just to come and pronounce judgment and sentence every person.

Meanwhile, the small portion of mankind who did seek God thought that there had to be some way to get God to notice them. If they could just do enough, then maybe God would notice them and allow them into His presence. But man did not understand how holy God is and how serious He takes sin. There is only one outcome for sin, death! Mankind did not even realize that all were already spiritually dead. There was no way for mankind to have life. Jesus was going to come and bring judgment and give the death penalty. It had to be paid.

The King came, but in a manger? As a baby? To poor parents? In a small town? Why? The answer to these questions can be summed up in one word, “LOVE”. God is love! It is His very nature. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God became incarnate and dwelt among us. Because of the love of God, there was not judgment, but grace. Because God loved us so much (that I cannot even start to understand this level of love) Jesus came as a baby, a slave, a lamb, and our Savior.

While mankind was in sin and rebellion, while all people were enemies of God, God’s love was so great that He became man and dwelt amongst us. Even though the world rejected Him, the Messiah still died so that we could find forgiveness and peace through Him. That is love!!!

Mankind still has to depend solely upon the love and grace of God. This Christmas, remember the love that was poured out upon us even while we were enemies of God. Praise God for the gift of His love, the greatest gift ever given.
Also reflect upon the fact that we are now to show Christ’s love to a world that is still in darkness. “We love because He first loved us.”

(Light the first two purple candles and the pink candle.)
Now light the last purple candle and say, “I light this candle on the Fourth Sunday of Advent to remind us of the great love that God has for us. This love candle also reminds us that we must show the love of Jesus Christ to a lost world.”

Read Luke 2:1-20 & 1 John 4:7-12, 19.

Light the white candle in the middle of your wreath. Explain to your family that this is the Christ candle. It represents the light that Jesus has brought into a dark and lost world. ( If it is night, turn off all the lights and show how Jesus brought light to a dark world).

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Well, maybe these aren't your typical 5th grade questions....

Click here for a quick test of your knowledge of Church History, then send a comment to let me know how you did... if you dare!

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Brother Can You Spare a Resource?

Yesterday’s post prompted me to clue you into some excellent commentary resources. There are probably more bad commentaries on the market today than good ones. There are few things worse than wasting money on a worthless commentary (trust me—I know from experience). Here are some good sources to go for help in picking out the good ones: – this website contains commentary reviews and ratings from biblically sound preachers, professors and theologians.

Building a Theological Library – a list of resources compiled by Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

850 Books for Biblical Expositors – this list was compiled by Dr. John MacArthur, one of the greatest biblical expositors of our time.

Just because a book is on the list doesn’t eliminate the need for discernment. All things must be lined up against the plumbline of God’s Word—that’s why commentaries should only come into play after you have been thoroughly steeped in the Text. It’s only then that they become the excellent tool God has given us.

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Christmas Family Devotional Guide

5 Reasons Jesus Had To Come

# 4 To Undo What Adam Did

Turn to Luke 3:23-38 (Struggle your way through this long list of people) – but emphasize to your children the more significant ones –(Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Abraham, Jacob, Boaz, King David)

Ask your family: “What did all of these people have in common? (Point out that every single one had sinned and were separated from God because of their sin.)

What went wrong? Things had started out so good. Gen 1:27-31 tells us man was created and given dominion of the earth. This dominion was to rule over. It is like being a king. Man also had perfect fellowship with God and there was no death.

Ask your family, “What happened to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden?”
They sinned – through one man came the curse and death.

Look back at Luke 3, and look at the last words of this chapter, “Adam, the son of God”.
God created Adam from the dust and placed him in the garden. But Adam rebelled against God. Adam as our king allowed sin and death to reign in creation.

God placed a curse on Adam and Eve and since they are the parents of all people, that curse was passed down also.

So all these people here in Luke 3 have one thing in common. They had sinned against God and they have a sin nature. Also, because of this sin, each one is separated from God.

But God loved us way too much to leave us in this mess.

There was nothing they could do to get back fellowship with God. Since this sin nature of the curse is passed down, God had to intervene. God placed His Son in the womb of Mary. Since the baby Jesus was born of God, He did not possess that sin nature and Jesus could then undo what Adam had done.

Read Romans 5:17-21

Through one man (Adam) came sin and death. Through this one man came wrath.

Through one God-man (Jesus) came life, forgiveness, adoption, and an innocent verdict.

Jesus also came to bring us eternal life if we would just believe in Him!!!

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 says, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Discuss as a family how happy you are that God sent Jesus as a man to undo the mess that we had made.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Public Sins

From WJXT Jacksonville, FL:

A divorced Jacksonville woman said her former church has threatened to "go public with her sins" and tell the congregation about her sexual relationship with her new boyfriend.

Rebecca Hancock said harassment from Grace Community Church in Mandarin over her sex life caused her to leave, but she said that didn't put an end to the problem. She said she received a letter from the church's elders telling her the church plans to make her personal life very public. [You can find video of the interview here]

"I'm basically run out. I'm the church harlot," Hancock said.

The 49-year-old said she has been dating a man for a while and she said members of the congregation at Grace Community Church haven't been happy about the relationship.

"Because I have a boyfriend that I'm involved with … to not be married to that person is a sin," Hancock said.

She said the issue caused her to leave the church. However, she said the church has not let go of her.

The letter Hancock received from the church states that because she has refused to end her sexual relationship with her boyfriend, "you leave us with no other choice but to carry out the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ" … "In accordance with Matthew 18:17 we intend to 'tell it to the church.'"

"On January 4, my sins will be told to the church, publicly, with my children sitting in the church and my friends," Hancock said.

How intolerant… at least that’s how this incident is being portrayed in the media. Several questions came to my mind when I saw this story. First, how did the news media become involved? I doubt the pastor called them—especially since he refused to comment to the reporter. I also doubt that the reporter casually stumbled on the story. That leaves only one plausible option as to who tipped off the reporter—Ms. Hancock herself.

Now that leads to the next question. Why would Ms. Hancock find it acceptable to broadcast her “personal” sexual escapades all over Jacksonville (and the country, thanks to Matt Drudge and Sean Hannity), but resist her church’s overtures of biblical discipline? If she would actively seek to be local television news fodder, why would she vehemently refuse to be brought before the church?

This brings to mind the most important question. Why would the church want to bring this on itself in the first place? Grace Community Church seems to be a dynamic, biblically sound church in the mold of its namesake, Dr. John MacArthur's Grace Community Church. I can only assume it is a church where they take the Bible seriously—even the difficult parts. Matthew 18 is a difficult part, because it requires accountability. And that’s where the problem lies. According to the news report, pastors with whom the reporter spoke stated, “announcing a sin to a congregation is not abnormal. They said [Matthew 18] is written in the Bible to punish sinners who continue in sin.”

No it’s not. Matthew 18:15-17 is the foundational passage on church discipline in the New Testament. The concept is further expounded in 1 and 2 Corinthians where Paul required the Corinthian church to exercise church discipline for an unrepentant immoral church member. The man in question was openly living in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife. The church knew about it but arrogantly refused to do anything about it. They accepted the man and his openly immoral lifestyle without question. They were “tolerant.” See what Paul’s reaction was in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5:

“For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul told the church that he had already judged the man. That wasn’t hard to do, because what he was doing was clearly contrary to God’s Word. Not only were the man’s actions sinful, they were wanton and blatant. They were begging for judgment, so Paul did. But not only did Paul offer personal condemnation, he “decided to deliver such a one to Satan.” In other words, Paul cast him away from the godly protection and fellowship of the church. He threw him out of the sheep pen, into the field where the ravenous wolves roam.

OK, so now for the final question—why was Paul so harsh? Why was he so judgmental and intolerant? Didn’t he know that the church is a “hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints?” He must not have subscribed to the theology of Dear Abby, the originator of that statement. Instead of succumbing to feel-good sentiment, Paul held to the words of Christ in Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Gentiles and tax collectors were people who were obviously unsaved. They were the lost that Jesus came to seek and save. Paul was harsh because he realized that if a person lived in continual unrepentant sin, they were lost. And he knew that a lost person is not part of the full fellowship of the church—yet. That person has to be saved. He has to experience a life-changing gift of grace from God. But as long as the unrepentant sinner continued in the full fellowship of the church, he could easily be duped into thinking he was OK. If the wolf hung around the sheep long enough, he might begin to believe he was a sheep.

How cruel would that be—to be lost and have all the Christians around you convincing you that you’re OK? Paul was far too kind and loving to let that happen. So he commanded that the church exercise discipline—not to dole out some sort of capricious punishment on the sinner, but in order to show him the seriousness of sin with the hopes that he would repent. And upon repentance, he would be restored to full fellowship. Each step of church discipline is designed to show an incorrigible sinner his sin, with the desired result being that he would be humbled and turn from it. The end goal is clear as the Corinthian sinner was restored to full fellowship in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.

So, why did Ms. Hancock refuse to submit to the discipline of her church and instead publicize her offense in the media? Because she is an unrepentant sinner who is seeking to publicly justify herself. She has stated that she is unwilling to change her immoral lifestyle because, “Jesus knows her heart”—implying that He doesn’t care about the willful disregard she has for His commands. He certainly does. That’s why He placed her in a church that cares enough about her to seek her repentance.

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Nehemiah Series Commentaries

Commentaries are a wonderful tool as long as we remember that they are exactly that—a tool. How privileged we are to have the benefit of godly men who have gone on before us. What a blessing to partake of the fruit of their labor in the Text. But enjoying and benefiting from their work can never replace our own labor in the Text. If we truly believe Hebrews 4:12, then we have to allow the Sword of God’s Word to cut into our own lives rather than simply report on the bleeding of others.

One of my favorite modern preachers, Alistair Begg, summarizes his method of preparation in four points: think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, and pray yourself hot. I have found this to be an excellent model to emulate.

After soaking in the Text by reading and re-reading and re-reading it, and meditating upon it, it’s important to think about it. What does it mean? What is the context? What are the implications of the Text? How does it connect with life today? Are there nuances in the original languages that shed light on the meaning of the passage? In the words of Begg, “I must know what this says, and I must learn what this means.”

It is only at that point that commentaries are of their most value. We should only turn to the study of others once we have been thoroughly steeped in the Text ourselves. But once we have gotten to that point, commentaries are invaluable discussion partners. At that point, we are no longer sponges, waiting to soak up whatever we might find—good or bad. Instead, we are discussion partners, able to have our iron sharpened by the friction of interaction with the commentator’s iron.

As I have written previously, I will be starting a new preaching series through the book of Nehemiah in January. As I lay the groundwork in my own life for starting that series and as part of the “reading myself full” phase, I am interacting with several commentaries that I wanted to share with you. Please let me know if I am missing a commentary you have found especially helpful. I want my preaching iron to be as sharp as possible so as not to impede the true sharpness of God’s Word.

Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 16, Ezra-nehemiah (williamson), 470pp

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