Friday, July 31, 2009

Fearing God

Dr. R. C. Sproul, (born and raised in Pittsburgh and attended Westminster College!)pastor and theologian, writes about the difference between being afraid of God and Fearing God:

I recently heard a young Christian remark, "I have no fear of dying." When I heard this comment I thought to myself, "I wish I could say that." Read the rest of the article here

Christ in a meaningless world

I am almost through reading a book written by David F. Wells, professor of historical and systematic theology at Gordon Conwell Seminary. The book is called Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a postmodern world.

Throughout the book so far he shows the emptiness and futility of human efforts to find meaning without God. Even in the church we have become such pragmatists that we think we can solve the church problems of our day without the help of the Holy Spirit.

Here's one of many helpful quotes:

We can search for the Kingdom of God, pray for it, and look for it, but only God can bring it about. The Kingdom is God's to give and to take away; it is only ours to enter and accept. We can inherit it, possess it, or refuse to enter it; we can preach it, but is is God's to establish. We receive, we do not take; we enter, but we do not seize; we come as subjects in his Kingdom, not as monarchs in our own.

As God's people at FPC, we are called to humility and complete dependence on God to do his work through us. FPC, along with other churches are called to be signs of the Kingdom of God in our world. May God so help us to live his visible reign in us for all to see.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What's your favorite inspirational movie?

Here's mine! Chariot's of Fire. This opening scene gives me chills and reminds me of every Christian's call to run the race with patient endurance looking unto Jesus, the architect of our faith!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Communion Service This Sunday

This Sunday we gather to celebrate the Lord's Supper; I hope you will join us. John Calvin, the 16th century reformer, reminds us of the importance of this sacrament:

God has received us, once for all, into his family, to hold us not only as servants but as sons and daughters. Thereafter, to fulfill the duties of a most excellent Father concerned for his offspring, he undertakes also to nourish us throughout the course of our life. And not content with that alone, he has willed, by giving his pledge to assure us of this continuing liberality. To this end, therefore, he has, through the hand of his only begotten Son, given to his church another sacrament, that is, a spiritual banquet wherein Christ attests himself to be the life-giving bread, upon which our souls feed unto true and blessed immortality. John 6:51

The Lord's Supper reminds us that sin is costly; grace is powerful; God is holy; Christ is coming again and we are one body in Christ!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When Friends Betray

David, or the person who penned this song was not perfect. He displays such godly reserve in the face of betrayal from close friends. God's grace has truly nested in his heart. Psalm 55: 1-23

Nothing stings like hypocrisy and betrayal. Nothing is more deadly than being stabbed in the back by someone you trusted. Psalm 55 chronicles the emotional pain of this man of God.

Read Psalm 55: 1-8, feel your pulse quicken. You can almost feel his pain. You can see into his heart through his choice of words: restless, moan, complaint, anguish, terror, fear, trembling, horror. In Psalm 55: 6-7, he wants to run and hide. Ever feel like you want to get away from the troubles around you? This is how David felt.

The source of his pain is in Psalm 55: 12-14: Essentially he says, I have been betrayed not by an enemy, that I could handle, I have been betrayed by my best friend! This person was my close companion; we went to worship together, gave mutual counsel to each other, but he did major harm to me. We don't know the nature of the betrayal but it must have been horrific.

How does he cope? Psalm 55: 22, "Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved." Our only defense is God. God will never leave us or forsake us, or betray us. Don't put your trust in people; they are weak and their flesh will fail. Trust in God.

O God, I pray for those who read these words; who are bleeding from the "knife wounds" of betrayal and deceit. Help them to forgive. Help them to look to you, for you are unchanging and utterly dependable. Teach us, precious Lord what it means to unload our burdens and emotional baggage before you in prayer. You will set us in place, immovable, unbreakable. Through Christ, our Savior and God, amen.

Courageous Christianity

What you are about to read is part of a letter written back in the early 2nd century by an unnamed disciple of Jesus Christ. The letter was written to defend Christianity from those who hate and persecute Christ followers. Do you think the character of Christians in the 21st Century is as distinct, or are we too cozy with the attitudes of modern day culture?

"For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or custom. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity and deep thought of acquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do....They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require.

They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. They are treated by the Jews as foreigners and enemies, and are hunted down by the Greeks; and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity."
It's no wonder early Christians turned their world upside down!
Anonymous, "Letter to Diognetus"

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What is a healthy Church Member? (pt. 4)

Pastor Thabiti M. Anyabwile believes that healthy church members demonstrate genuine conversion. They know the work of God's grace in their own soul. Without genuine understanding of conversion, churches will be filled with vast numbers of nominal Christians - those who hold to the faith in name only.

By definition, conversion is the radical turn from an enslaved life of pursuing sin to a free life of pursuing and worshiping God. It is a change of life, not merely a decision. This change is not a matter of moral rectitude, self help, or mere behavior modification. It is not accomplished by outward displays or religious practices like "walking the aisle."

Therefore it is important that we know our own souls. Using 1 John as a diagnostic tool we ask ourselves the following questions:
1. Do we walk in the light or the darkness?
2. Do we love God the Father?
3. Do we love other Christians?
4. Do we have the testimony of the Spirit that we are Children of God?
5. Are we persevering in the faith?

When it comes to conversion we must recognize that evangelism is not a matter of clever technique but of relying on the Spirit of God to bless the Word of God to effect spiritual rebirth and the radical change of conversion. Conversion is God's work and for that we are grateful!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

How to handle difficult people

The situation facing David in Psalm 54: 1-7 is for the most part foreign to our day to day human experiences. When was the last time someone tried to kill you or do you physical harm? I am not suggesting this could never happen, but in the normal course of our lives we are not dealing with homicidal types.

Yet we do face people who are relational black holes. These people are very unhealthy; filled with anger, picky, judgmental, lovers of gossip, and all round mean spirited. By the way, did I tell you that they are members of your church? So how do you deal with people who would never kill you, but would emotionally destroy healthy relationships.

This is where we have much in common with David.David prays to Almighty God on the assurance of his strong name, his confidence in God's power to vindicate him, and the knowledge that his prayers are heard before God. When you are dealing with people who are against you, talk to God about them Psalm 54: 1-3

You also need to go deeper in your knowledge of God. David says of the Lord, God is my helper, the one who upholds my life. Psalm 54: 4-5
Our tendency is to fixate on these people; allow them to push our buttons; spend our waking moments swinging from despair, to anger, to frustration. We spend our days stressed out by these folks. David does none of this. He knows that God is faithful and will deal with these situations. Psalm 54: 5

Instead of marinating in bitters juices, he vows to spend his energy praising God and thanking the Lord for his goodness. Try it. When you are facing difficult people and circumstances, begin praising the Lord. Thank him for his goodness. Remind yourself of his faithfulness. Dwell on the Lord; intensify your time in His word and prayer. I can assure you that the people and the problems will shrink and God will become great. When God becomes great in your life, there is greater love, patience, courage to speak the truth, and power to forgive your enemies through Christ.

Precious Lord, we praise you that you are our rock and fortress. With you indwelling us and sustaining us, we smile at the storm and we rejoice in your power to deliver us from the hand of the enemy. Even if you choose not to deliver us we know that your plans for us always turn out for our good and your glory. Amen

Friday, July 24, 2009

History of the Reformation

The following video explains how the Church lost its pure, simple form in the Acts of the Apostles. It shows how God's church got mired in the pits of corrupt clergy practices and how God used the 16th Century Reformation to rescue his church. Set aside about 30 good minutes for an excellent overview of Reformation History to the present PCUSA crises. The audio of the first few minutes is poor but the rest is loud and clear and worth your time. Click here

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Careful What You Pray For!

Came across this thought provoking quote from Pastor Mark Buchanan in the most recent edition of Leadership Journal. Would you have the courage to pray this way for the ministry of FPC? Let me know what you think....

Jim Cymbala once said that pastors should pray, "Bring us the drug-addicted, the prostitutes, the destitute, the gang leaders, those with AIDS, the people nobody wants, who only you can heal, and let us love them in your name until they are whole."

I had never prayed for God to bring such people to my church. So I repented and began to cry out for "those nobody wanted." And darned if God didn't bring them. But then I found out why nobody wants them: they're messy and costly and dirty.

When God brings messy people, it does two things: first, it make you real and then it makes your desperate. It makes you real because your are dealing with a magnitude of sin that bromides and platitudes are powerless against. You have to name sin in all its ugliness and minister the cure undiluted. It makes you desperate, because with the sex-trade workers and crack addicts, there's no three step technique, and unless Jesus is with you, ready to catch you when you fall, you are going to fail.

Some days I wish things were tidy again. But if ministry and mess are inseparable, I'll take them both.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Only by Grace

NINETEENTH-CENTURY Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield wrote:

"There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. . . . This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing;
nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest."

Do you agree with this statement? Why?

What I am preaching

Over the next few weeks I will try to share with the family of God at FPC the greatness of Christ through the letter to the Hebrews.

Please pray for me as I prepare to preach an introductory series of sermons from the first three chapters of Hebrews, Christ above all earthly powers.

The sermons will exalt, enlarge, and call us to magnify the One we call Savior and Lord. Christ is Supreme in all the Scriptures; he has no rivals who compares to his greatness. My prayer is that as the original recipients of this letter, Christ-followers at FPC would hold fast to their confession and persevere in the midst of all the hardships of these days.

July 26, 2009
Christ: Above all earthly powers
Psalm 2: 1-12
Hebrews 1: 1-14

August 2 Summer Communion
Christ: Son of God, Son of Man
Hebrews 2: 5-18
Isaiah 53: 4-9

August 9
Christ: Worthy of all glory
Hebrews 3: 1-6
Psalm 47: 1-9

August 16-Guest Preacher
August 23-Guest Preacher

August 30
Christ: Rest for the wanderer
Psalm 23: 1-6
Hebrews 3: 7-19

Slumdogs and Slavery

Dr. Gary Smith and his wife Jane Marie Smith are members of FPC. They are committed Christians with a profound love for God and a burning passion to see justice done for the last, the least and the lost. Earlier this year, they co-authored an article about the horrors of child sex trafficking. The article garnered significant attention on the internet and I want to make sure you read it and find ways to respond. Read their article here

Also, check out the website, Stop Child Trafficking Now to learn ways to fight this ugly, inhumane practice!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Practical Atheism

In case you missed it in your reading, Psalm 14:1-7 and Psalm 53:1-6 are basically identical. I am not sure why they are repeated in this fashion, but the points are hard to miss:
Those who reject God as the foundation for life are called fools. The English writer G. K. Chesterton wisely said, God is like the sun; you cannot look at it, but without it, you cannot look at anything else."

Without God, people descend into corruption; they engage in abominable deeds and cannot see what is good or do what is good. Psalm 53: 1

Believing or rejecting God does not change the reality of God's existence. God is self-sufficient and self-existent and does not need human validation in order to exist. God looks down from heaven and sees right into the heart of every human being. What God sees from heaven are fallen people, corrupt people; there is no one who is good. Psalm 53: 2-3

The bottom line of these two Psalms is that the unbeliever has everything to fear because every soul is accountable to God. God's people have nothing to fear because he is their salvation. See Psalm 14: 5-6; Psalm 53: 5

Precious Lord, we have no one in heaven besides you, and there is nothing on earth we desire but you. Our heat and strength may fail but you are the strength of our lives and our portion forever. Amen

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Doeg: The man who dared touch God's priests

The introduction to Psalm 52 says this Psalm is about Doeg, the Edomite who came and told Saul, "David has come to the House of Ahimelech."

Doesn't sound like a big deal until you read 1 Samuel 22: 9-19. Saul was hunting David the way a hunter tracks wild game. David went to the house of Ahimelech the priest for food, rest and shelter. Doeg told Saul that his enemy found shelter with this priest. Saul sentenced Ahimelech to death for assisting the fugitive David. The problem is, all of Saul's men refused to kill the priest except Doeg. Doeg had no fear of God in him. He took his sword and killed a total of 85 priests that day! I Samuel 22: 18

Psalm 52: 1-9 is a lament and a statement of trust in God. I would imagine that David is distressed at the thought that his presence among the priests led to their death. He directs his words first to Doeg, whom he calls a mighty man (tongue in cheek).
Doeg's razor sharp tongue plans destruction I Sa 52:1
He is a worker of deceit
He loves evil more than good
He loves lying more than speaking what is right
He loves words that destroy others I Sa 52: 1-4
This is a very bad man.

But God knows how to deal with bad people like Doeg I Sa. 52: 5-7
God will one day break him down forever
God will one day snatch and tear him from his tent
Like a dead tree, God will uproot him from the land of the living
People all around will see and hear about the demise of Doeg and laugh
They will remember him as the man who thought he could live his life without God
They will remember him as the man who trusted more in his fleeting riches instead of trusting in God who lives forever.

On the other hand, David is confident that God will take care of him I Sa. 52: 8-9
In contrast to the wicked people who are uprooted, David will be like a green olive tree firmly established in the house of God

Instead of trusting in the fleeting pleasures of riches, David will trust in the steadfast love of God forever.

Instead of gloating about himself and his accomplishments, David promises to thank God because God is trustworthy and reliable. As he waits on the Lord he knows within himself and even from the testimony of godly people that God will never fail.

When evil people assail or threaten, remember God is still greater!

Heavenly Father, we look to you for help and strength; we look to you with confidence that your steadfast love endures forever. Help us to never make people so big that you become small before our eyes. We fix our eyes on you and we trust in you. Through Christ we hear your eternal promise, I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). For this we are ever thankful, through Jesus Christ our Savior, amen.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Can I live?

Very powerful message about the preciousness of each life in the womb. Ps. 139: 14
Nick Cannon's Mom would have committed a huge, disastrous, irreversible tragedy had she gone ahead with her abortion. Share this with all your friends.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Are we next?

Progressives in the Episcopal Church were on the verge of claiming another victory Wednesday as leaders endorsed the creation of blessing liturgies for same-sex unions one day after they ended a de facto ban on the ordination of gay bishops.

The action by bishops at the church's General Convention in Anaheim left conservatives with little to celebrate. They said the twin measures would further divide the 2.1-million member denomination and strain an already fragile relationship with the global Anglican Communion.

Read more here

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Sinner's Prayer

Without question, Psalm 51: 1-19 is the most famous penitential psalm in all the bible. This classic text incisively treats themes of sin, repentance, forgiveness, confession.

The occasion of the Psalm depicts the aftermath of David's sin with Bathsheba, his murder of Uriah, and his response to Nathan's "Thou art the man" confrontation.

As soon as Nathan leaves, David collapses by the side of his bed weeping bitterly. The weight of his crimes weigh heavily on his heart. In desperation and shame, he cries out to God for help:
Ps. 51: 1-6 He pleads for mercy on the basis of the steadfast love of the Lord

Ps. 51: 6-12 He begs for cleansing. Sin has contaminated his soul; he feels dirty and polluted and wants to be made clean, so he says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God...." Ps. 51: 10

Ps. 51: 13-15 Once sin's compromising effects are removed, David feels he will be able to minister to others who might be in similar conditions - then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you.

Psalm 51: 16-19 David is aware that God delights in sincerity, heartfelt contrition above sacrifices and burnt offerings. God will never despise sincere repentance and turning from sin.

Throughout my walk with the Lord, I can think of times when I was acutely aware of the unpleasantness of my failures and sins. It was Psalm 51 that rescued me; delivered me from Satan's accusations, and gave me the courage to lift up my wounded soul to the Lord, and pointed me back to my merciful Savior! This Psalm gives great assurance that God will forgive all those who confess their sin to God. Hallelujah!!

Lord, you desire that your children do not sin. But when we sin, we are thankful that we have an advocate in Jesus Christ. His blood interposes and washes away the sin of those who truly repent. Thank you for your patience to never leave us or forsake us, through our Redeemer and Savior, amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What happened to the Lord's Day?

Pastor Ray Ortlund makes an incisive observation about the secularization of Sunday. He makes a great point that is worth your consideration.

If we would stop treating Sunday as a second Saturday, one more day to run to Home Depot, one more day for the kids' soccer games, if we would rediscover Sunday as The Lord's Day, focusing on him for one day each week, what would be the immediate impact between today and one year from today?

By one year from today, we will have spent 52 whole days given over to Jesus. Seven and a half weeks of paid vacation with Jesus.

He's a good King. Maybe we should put him first in our weekly schedules.
Posted by Ray Ortlund at Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How to bribe God

Psalm 50:1-23 highlights the misguided attempts of those who try to manipulate God to their side by their religious practices. Do people actually think they can bribe or appease God by their attempts at personal goodness? The answer of course is no; but it doesn’t stop people from trying.

It’s actually a form of paganism or idolatry. Worshipers believe the “gods” are fickle and arbitrary. Anything can upset this delicate balance, so the worshiper has to provide a constant stream of sacrifices to the gods to keep them happy. Sacrifice a child, animals, crops, and things will go well.

Some of this is going on in Psalm 50: 1-23. But God will have none of this. In court-room style, the Mighty One, God the Lord – who is not comparable to the gods of the earth – summons two groups people to answer charges of religious bribery. Ps. 50:1-6

God does not need religious sacrifices Ps. 50: 7-9; because everything – animals, birds, cattle – everything, belongs to the Lord. Ps. 50: 10-13. God wants from Israel sacrifices of thanksgiving, obedience, and dependence on God to deliver in times of trouble. Ps. 50: 14-15
It seems to me God rejects Israel’s sacrifice, because while they brought their external sacrifices to God, they with held their hearts from the Lord. Remember what Samuel told Saul? I Sam. 15: 22

Almighty God questions the strange practice of those who audibly recite God’s Laws but reject those same laws through their lifestyle choices! Ps. 50: 16-17
They had perfect recall of the Law of God but failed in 5 main ways:
1. You hate discipline by casting my words behind you Ps. 50: 17
2. You support thieves and keep company with adulterers Ps. 50: 18
3. You gossip about other people, tell lies, and speak evil against siblings Ps. 50: 19-21

Psalm 50 opened with solemn, scary words of judgment, now ends with mercy and the hope of salvation Ps. 50: 22-23. Isn’t this just like God? God’s grace is always greater than sin. God shows mercy to those who are near and to those who are far off. God will not be manipulated or bribed by superficial religion. The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God.

Tomorrow, as we gather with others for worship, don't think God is pleased with mere outward forms of religion. Go deeper. Look at your heart; ask the hard questions: do I live each day as if God really matters? Do I believe that sees me from the inside out and nothing can be hidden from him?

Lord, thank you for your mercy and grace. You are just in all your ways, and your judgments are true. We deserve your wrath. Forgive us for giving sacrifices without giving our lives to your rule and reign. Forgive us for hiding behind our empty religious activities that cater to our sin. Thank you for Jesus who lived a perfect life and died as our sinless sacrifice to remove our sin. Help us now from this day to love you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What is the gospel?

It is helpful to rule out some ideas frequently presented as the gospel:
1. The gospel is not simply that...
a. we are ok
b. that God is love
c. that Jesus wants to be our friends
d. that we should live right
e. that all our problems will be fixed if we follow Jesus
f. that God wants us to be healthy, wealthy, and wise

So what is the gospel?
a. first it is good news
b. God the Father, who is holy and righteous in all his ways, is angry with sinners and will punish sin.
c. Man, who disobeys the rule of God, is alienated from the love of God and is in danger of an eternal and agonizing condemnation at the hands of God
d. But God is rich in mercy, because of his great love, sent his one and only son, born of the Virgin Mary, to die as a ransom and substitute for the sins of rebellious people
e. Through the perfect obedience of Jesus and his willing death on the cross as payment for our sins, all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ, following him as Savior and Lord, will be saved from the wrath of God to come, and be declared just in his sight, have eternal life, and receive the Spirit of God as a down payment for the coming glories of eternal life with God in heaven!

The key now is to study and reflect on this so that we can share these ideas as God sends us to people in need.

What is a healthy Church member? (pt. 4)

Reading the third mark of a healthy church confirmed something I have always believed:
The number one reason why mainline churches across America are in such decline is, we are not convinced that people's greatest need is to know God through Jesus Christ.
This explains our numerical decline
This explains our aversion to conversion of people's lives
This explains our lack of evangelical fervor
This explains why so many of our leaders and members have never had the joy of sharing the gospel with people who need Christ.

Apart from the gospel, the church has NOTHING to say - that is, nothing to say that cannot be said by some other human agency. The gospel distinguishes the church from the world, defines her message and mission to the world, and steels her people against the fiery darts of Satan.

How then do we at FPC become gospel saturated members?
1. We have to know the gospel. Unfortunately, many have a shallow understanding of the gospel

2. We must desire to hear the gospel and preach the gospel to ourselves

3. Order your life around the gospel - so that it animates every area of your life

4. Share the gospel with others. With urgency and love we must tell the non-Christians among us to repent of their sins and believe on Jesus Christ.

5. Guard the gospel- a healthy church member takes seriously the responsibility of guarding the gospel from corruption and abandonment.
Here's the question to pray and ponder: What strategies will you put into place to keep yourself thinking about, applying, and sharing the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ?
I'd like to hear from you!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

American Idol?

Today, more than 31 million Americans watched the Michael Jackson memorial service in Los Angeles. Sales of Jackson's albums soared for a second week, with his solo albums jumping another 90 percent to 800,000 copies in the United States, tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan said.

Part of me felt deep sadness for these adoring fans and celebrities. What does it profit to gain the whole world and lose your soul? Psalm 49:17 says, “For when he dies he will carry nothing away; for his glory will not go down after him.”

Wisdom, is the word that describes Psalm 49. Read slowly; read meditatively; glean all the wisdom you can from this hymn. Use your ears; use your eyes; use all your senses so that this particular message sticks. Here’s the gist of the message:

First, the message is for all people; rich and poor, low and high need this wisdom. Ps. 49: 1-4

Second, do not be afraid of those who are rich and powerful; there is no money in the world that can ransom the life of another human being. Ps. 49: 5-9

Third, everyone will one day face death; death is the great equalizer. Ps. 10-12

Fourth, for those who trust in themselves and their riches, death shall be their shepherd. Ps. 49:13-15

Finally, do not be afraid when others become rich and famous. When he dies he will carry nothing away for his glory will not go down after him. Ps. 49: 16-20

Sadly, as great as Michael was in this life, it means nothing in the life to come. Ps. 49: 20

Precious Lord, help us in these days when idol worship abounds, to place you at the highest place in our lives. You tell us that your joy is our strength. You are our life, our wealth, our wisdom, and our peace. May your grace and mercy shine brightly through us so that others may know you. Grant us wisdom to sort out how to live for your glory. Amen

Monday, July 6, 2009

God is our defense

There are two ways to read Psalm 48:

1. This breath-taking psalm could be read as a literal hymn celebrating Jerusalem,
God's special city, which God defends from enemies. God is her fortress and defense Ps. 48:3

Ps. 48: 4-8 depicts a time when "kings" assembled and came together to overthrow God's people. Their efforts were futile. In a state of fear, and utter panic, the enemies of God tremble in anguished defeat.

The psalm concludes with gratitude for God's steadfast love. As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth Psalm 48: 10. I think the "ends of the earth" here refers to God's sovereign plan to save the world.

The strength of Zion is not in her armies, her kings, her ramparts but in God. Tell the next generation of God's power to save. He will be our guide forever.

2. One may also read this psalm as an expression God's presence and power manifested through his kingdom, not just Jerusalem. The New Testament understands Zion as the collective people of God. Like ancient Israel, God's people face dark, demonic enemies. These enemies attack, seduce, and pollute God's people with false teaching.

But our God is forever and ever. As he guided the ancient church, he will guide his people and save us from all enemies. I hope you believe this with all your heart!

Father, you promised that even though a host should rise up against us, our hearts will not fear. No weapon of the enemy formed against us your people will prosper. You are our rock and our fortress; in you we hide. Thank you that the One in us and with us is greater than the one who is in the world. Amen

Healthy Members=Healthy Church (3)

In the second chapter of his book, "What is a healthy church member?" Pastor Anyabwile says a healthy church member is a biblical theologian.

But there is a problem to face: Ignorance of God. Quoting from J. I. Packer's very helpful book, Knowing God, he says, ignorance of God's ways and the practice of communion or devotion with God lies at the root of the church's weakness today.

The source of this ignorance of God comes from misplaced thoughts. We think great thoughts about our world but leave room for only small thoughts about God.

So what would biblical theology look like for the member? To practice biblical theology is to know God himself through the pages of Scripture!

How does biblical theology work to promote health in a church member?
1. Practicing biblical theology helps us grow in our reverence for God
2. It helps us overcome our wrong ideas about God
3. It helps inoculate the church against false doctrines
4. It helps the church fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus commands the church to teach all believers to observe all that he commands.

How does a church member become a biblical theologian?
1. Read a good book on biblical theology (check with me on some possible choices; or check out our church library)
2. Study the Scriptures thematically. In other words, study the big ideas of the bible: creation, fall, election, redemption through Christ, his death, Resurrection, glorification and second coming.
3. Read the Old and New Testament as one story, from one author. When reading the Old Testament try to determine how Christ is represented in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament.
4. Know and understand what our church believes. For us this means, what does it mean to be a Christian in the Presbyterian Church? What does it mean to be a reformed, evangelical Christian?

Healthy churches have members who are knowing God, loving God, and obeying God. This knowledge of God is found not in our feelings, opinions, or experiences, but in the Word of God.

If you are serious about being a healthy member of FPC, then I have good news. We have the structure in place to help you become a biblical theologian. Consider joining us at 7:00 PM, Wednesday nights, for in depth studies in the book of John, or at 9:00 AM, Sunday mornings, for additional bible classes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Healthy Members=Healthy Church (2)

According to Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, a healthy member is an expositional listener. In order to do this kind of listening the pastor must ensure that the sermon gets its main point/s from a particular passage of the bible.

Assuming that the pastor is preaching sermons that are clearly derived from Scripture, then the task of the member of that church is to listen for the voice and message of God as revealed in his Word.

He asks this question: What are the benefits of expositional listening?
1. It helps us cultivate a hunger for the word of God
2. It helps us focus on God's will and to follow him
3. It protects the gospel and our lives from corruption
4. Encourages faithful pastors-makes the pastor work harder when the members show up each week to hear and understand the scriptures to make them wise unto salvation
5. It benefits the gathered congregation-promotes unity

The chapter ends with this question: How can church members cultivate the habit of expositional listening?
1. Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time
2. Invest in a good set of commentaries-(or check out the ones in FPC's library!)
3. Talk and pray with members about the sermon after church
4. Listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week
5. Develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself
6. Cultivate humility
I would add a seventh step to cultivating the habit of expositional listening: be faithful in your worship attendance where the word of God is taught and preached!
See you Sunday

Friday, July 3, 2009

Healthy Members=Healthy Church

I am reading through a new book, "What is a healthy Church Member? by Pastor Thabiti M. Anyabwile. Just started the book but already it is raising many important questions in my mind. Over the next week or so I will try to share a few summary thoughts on what I am learning from the book.

From the introduction, here's the first basic, yet thought provoking quote:
"How can you, an individual member of a local church, contribute to the positive health of your church?"
The author answers the question by telling the story of a woman who approached him at the end of worship with a litany of complaints about things going on in the church that bothered her. She did this while the pastor was trying to greet folks exiting worship!

Out of exasperation he thought about asking her, "What exactly would you have me do about those problems. Instead he asked her, "So what are you going to do about the state of the church? How will you become a better member and contribute to the health of God's family in this place?"

Those questions belong to every Christian, not just the ones who complain like the dissatisfied member. The health of the local church depends on the willingness of its members to inspect their hearts, correct their thinking, and apply their hands to the work of the ministry.

Very well said! Would love to hear your reactions to this!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

That's why we sing

If you are planning on gathering with other believers at the mission we call First Presbyterian Church, then you need to read Psalm 47 as good preparation for worship.

After all, the reasons why we gather are not complicated. We gather each week to worship God and God alone. God is the object, the subject, the purpose and the reason for our time together. So we look upward in worship.

But we also gather to encourage each other. Jesus said the greatest commandment calls us to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22: 37-39). In worship, love of neighbor means encouraging each other in the word of God; in the practice of all the Christian virtues. So we look beyond ourselves to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4

Placed in this light, is there any reason why we should exchange Christian community and worship for all the things that we deem so important? I think not.

Notice in this Psalm the activities of those who worship God in the context of Christian community:
1. Clapping, shouting, singing Psalm 47: 1
2. Meditating or acknowledging the greatness of God our King Psalm 47: 2-4
3. Singing praises Psalm 47: 5-7
4. Extolling the greatness of God's reign over all earthly powers Psalm 47: 8-9

This is so basic and foundational to the Christian life. The best thing we can do with our time is to worship God. True-hearted worship re-calibrates our inner being. The world, sin, temptation, conflict, the devil, financial pressures, pleasures, work, slowly but surely shred our spirit. When we gather before God and remember that He reigns from heaven on earth, we are restored and renewed to live christianly in our sin-soaked world.

I hope to see you all in full force this Sunday excited for the chance to declare His majesty!

Father, O what peace we often forfeit, what needless pain we bear, what unnecessary burdens weigh us down; all because we do not take time to worship you in Spirit and in Truth. Forgive us for placing pleasure about praise and worship. As we gather this Sunday with other hungry believers may your name be exalted at FPC. Amen