For it is by grace you have been saved...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review: The Gift Of Psalms (Word of Promise)

In his classic Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon writes: “The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure.” In Answering God, Eugene Peterson writes that “what is essential in prayer is not that we learn to express ourselves, but that we learn to answer God. The Psalms show us how to answer.” And in his book Praying the Scriptures, Evan Howard reminds us that “The Psalms have been at the heart of Christian prayer throughout the church’s history… The earliest leaders of the church quote from the Psalms more frequently than from any other Old Testament book.”

All that is to say this: any sound devotional based on the Psalms is probably a worthwhile investment. The Gift of Psalms, a combination devotional book and accompanying audio CDs, certainly fits into that category. Produced by the folks who put together The Word of Promise audio Bible projects, this shares the quality production work of their other efforts.

Subtitled “Devotional Wisdom from 50 of the Best Loved Psalms”, the book portion is just that (gotta love it when the title actually and accurately summarizes the content). Fifty Psalms, or portions of Psalms, are reprinted, followed by some pretty good devotional writings by Lori Jones.

The Psalm selections and the devotional writings focused on magnifying God for His faithfulness, holiness, great works and salvation. What could have been mere fluff seemed to me to be a truly Christ exalting collection. Each devotional reading is concluded with a written prayer which is actually quite helpful. I know we Baptists have an aversion to that sort of thing, but try it once in awhile. In fact, The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers may be one of the best additions you’ll ever make to your devotional library (sorry for plugging another book here).

My favorite part, though, had to be the audio disks. While not including all 50 of the devotional readings, this collection of dramatic recordings of the Psalms followed by a reading of the devotional and prayer make an excellent addition to this project. I was able to average two Psalms/devotionals on my short drive to the church each morning, and I really enjoyed them. While we certainly never want to over-simplify our Scripture intake by replacing reading and meditation with this sort of thing, it does make a nice addition to one’s overall daily dose of the Word.

Wrap it all up in the fine, gift-quality package here, and I would certainly recommend this as a nice offering for a friend or family member. For that matter, you would probably enjoy giving this to yourself. A daily dose of Psalm reading is truly a “boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure,” and The Gift of Psalms is surely a pleasant addition to that practice.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Preach The Word

Monday mornings are usually rough for me. Sundays are the highlight of my week, but I'm usually pretty wiped out. Preaching may not seem like hard work to many, but for those who take it seriously, it is both exhausting and exhilarating.

Dan Phillips of the Pyromaniacs has a wonderful post that explains much of what I’m talking about. This post was very challenging for me, as it reminded me of the gravity of this thing called preaching. But it was also very encouraging, as it reminded me that I’m not alone in my quest to be faithful in preaching the Word. Not that I’m perfect, or that I always get it right, but this post is a wonderful summary of my goals.

For any pastors reading this, I encourage you to read this as a challenge and encouragement. For non-pastors, I encourage you to read this as an insight into a pastor’s heart so that you may pray more effectively for your pastor. Regardless of your service in the church, you will be blessed by this post. (Click on link below)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

On Kurt and the Cardinals

Well I’ve been sticking my foot in it with politics and religion and even book reviews, so I thought I’d try something a bit more benign: Football! More specifically, the upcoming Super Bowl.

I have to admit that I’m extremely biased on this issue. Having grown up in the St. Louis area, I sort of have a soft spot in my heart for the Cardinals. Even though I became an ardent Rams supporter when they came to town, I’ve always tried to keep half an eye on our old Redbirds. Part of that has to do with my penchant for cheering for underdogs (which is why I still root for the Rams!), but anyway.

I’m also partial to the Cardinals because of their quarterback. Most people are aware of Kurt Warner’s Christian testimony and his extensive off-the-field ministry endeavors (see here). I remember back when he was taking our Rams to the Super Bowl, it happened around the same time that Billy Graham came to St. Louis. He was invited to share his testimony, and we went that evening and enjoyed hearing from him.

I know that many are skeptical and even put off by the pro-athlete praising God for every victory thing. And we all know that claiming to be Christian doesn’t mean the guy is perfect. But in a day and age where most ball players are being arrested for assault, drug possession, shooting themselves in the leg and so on, it’s nice to have some guys out there that I feel safe having my boys look up to a bit. Of course, I admit that I might push it a little too much. Ask my four-year-old who his favorite quarterback is and he’ll immediately say: Kurt Warner! (actually, it sounds more like “Kort Worner” but we all know what he means).

Anyway, all this rambling is simply to say that I’m really pulling for the underdog again. Not because I think God’s on the Cardinals’ side or anything. There are some outstanding Christian men on the Steelers sideline as well. It’s just that soft spot thing. Our old team. Our old quarterback. And the chance to cement his Hall of Fame chances. Plus I’d just love to hear Warner shout over the loud speakers again at the end of the game: Thank You, Jesus! Corny as it may be, I just love it!

Go Cardinals!

Now, I just hope I don’t get a lot of hate mail from the Steeler fans out there!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Height of Pagan Idolatry

For those who haven’t seen or read it yet, the “prayer” by openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson which opened our new president’s inauguration festivities is the height of blasphemy. Not only does he address the prayer to some mythical idol called “O God of our many understandings,” but the things he prays for are downright anti-biblical.

You can watch it here, or skip down and read the content below.

My last post was from the “What’s This World Coming To” file, but this should take the cake in that category. For a few better options of an inaugural prayer, check our Dr. Al Mohler’s offering here, or consider these selections collected by the folks at Pyromaniacs: here, here, or here.

Now, here are Bishop Robinson’s words:

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

-By V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

From the “What’s This World Coming To” Files

Sometimes you come across news items that just leave you speechless. I know that we are a depraved race, but sometimes it even shocks me. Below are links to recent stories that just leave me scratching my head, especially those that show the state of the American church is little better than the rest of society sometimes. Anyone who doesn’t believe in total depravity just isn’t paying attention. Read at your own peril.

National Prayer Service “Preacher” (especially paragraphs 7 and 9)

Man Tries to Sell His Daughter

The Most Pagan Preaching I’ve Ever Heard!

And just plain, “You’ve Got To Be kidding!”
(Warning, contains objectionable content; as if the others didn’t!)

Praise God for His Amazing Grace that saves us from our own depraved hearts!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Truth or Fiction

One of my all time favorite Rich Mullins songs is Creed. I know that being a Baptist and being “non-Creedal” and all should make me run from those kinds of things, but I’ve always liked the historical Creeds (although not as much as I like those historical Confessions; see samples of both here). There is a great deal of truth in them and they often served their purpose in helping to preserve Orthodoxy. But I digress, this is about the song…

The song is based on the Apostles' Creed, one of the earliest and simplest confessions of Christian truth. Creedal or not, most Christians would ascribe to the truth of it. And the line of the song I like best is this:

And I believe what I believe, it’s what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.

The point is simple. God’s truth is truth. It is what shapes me, my life, my thoughts, my behaviors, my attitudes, etc. Not the other way around. And yet, it seems we like it the other way better. My life, my thoughts, my attitudes, etc. are what shape what I believe the truth is.

A couple days ago, Dr. Al Mohler’s blog mentioned some recent research which solidifies what others have suggested for some time. Namely, most self-professed Christians don’t even believe the truth of their own faith. According to Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 52% of self-professed American Christians don’t believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. The more conservative “evangelical” label doesn’t even help much. Of those “evangelicals” 37% say they don’t believe the exclusive claims of the gospel. No wonder the American church seems to struggle at times. We’re offering a Christ that we don’t even believe is necessary.

Ironically, our family was visited by some Jehovah’s Witnesses yesterday. According to another report by the Pew Forum, 80% of these folks are convinced of the exclusive claims of their faith. Reminds me of another song. Back in the day, Whiteheart sang of folks who were More Sold Out to lies than we are to the truth.

Jesus made it quite clear: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV). He also said, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23, ESV). Seems clear to me that “all paths” don’t lead to the same place. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. (Someone famous came up with that one, too).

It seems apparent that our pulpits need to get back to proclaiming the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Doesn’t matter if folks like it or not, it’s the truth, not the fiction of man.

Years ago I saw the bumper sticker (ever the source of good theology) that said, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Cute. However, the middle phrase is superfluous. God said it and that settles it, whether you choose to believe it or not.

The Bible – I did not make it, no it is making me. It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.