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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Reformation Day

Down through the ages, God has worked is some amazing ways in the life of His people. In Scripture we read about things like the Exodus; the many victories in battle; the establishment of Israel’s Kingdom in Saul, David, etc.; the return of His people following exile; the outpouring of His Spirit at Pentecost. Of course the greatest of all was the sending of His Son, His life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.

Since those days, we have continued to see times in which God works in mighty ways for His people, all throughout church history. Even in this nation, we’ve seen Great Awakenings and widespread revival.

Yet, in the post-Biblical history of the Church, one of the grandest works of God was in some ways ignited by the simple act of a blog post. Okay, so it wasn’t actually a blog post, but it was the 16th century equivalent. One little monk put together a collection of thoughts and ideas about the current state of the Church, and in particular, the sale of indulgences; which he saw as a violation of Scripture. For those who don’t know, it was simply the practice of allowing people to purchase freedom for dead relatives out of Purgatory (a place whose very existence is a corruption of Scripture.

So, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther took his collection of arguments against this practice, now known at the 95 Theses, and he tacked them on the doors of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. The church doors were the world wide web of the day. Any announcements, advertisements, etc. were posted here. In God’s providence, the printing press was just coming into prominence, and someone took that one blog post and reposted it and it went viral. Of course I’m using modern images here, but you get the idea.

It’s not that Luther was the first to see the problems arising in the Church. For years and years, men like John Wickliffe and John Hus taught against some of the corrupt doctrines that had arisen in the church. But again, through the working of God’s Providence, the timing was right when Luther’s Theses hit the door. A Reformation had been ignited.

Luther and those like him battled of the sufficiency and supremacy of Scripture. It wasn’t just about the traditions of the Church, the Word of God had to take precedence. The Reformation was built on the five pillars of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Gratia (Grace alone), Sola Fide (Faith alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (God’s glory alone).

Afterward, men like John Calvin and Philip Melancton and Ulric Zwingli and John Knox and many others would take those Reformation sparks and fan them into giant flames. The result, of course, can never be overstated. The Church has never been the same. And down through the years, God has continued to raise up men to carry on the war cry: Semper Reformanda; Always Reforming. The Puritans are seen by many as the inheritors of the Reformers, and so it does down through the years to those who continue to hold God’s Word as the supreme authority, with salvation taught as being justification by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, only for the glory of God.

And so you see, friends, this date marks not the time for Satanic delight as some celebrate it. Instead, it is the celebration of God’s great work in the life of His people, His church. So Happy Reformation Day. May God continue to shower His blessings on and through His Church.

NOTE: For more reading on Reformation thought and theology, check on this collection of articles at And furthermore, if you're interested, here is my daughter's shorter and snarkier take on the whole Reformation Day thing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rated "M" for Mature. Yeah, Right.

As if we need any proof at all that the world’s way of looking at things is all upside down, backwards, inside out, etc., just look at how we rate games these days. Our oldest son did some work for a family in our church, and for payment they gave him an Xbox. Now, our family has never been much into video games; up until that time we still played a couple games on an old Sega system we got at a garage sale. But to be quite honest, I’ve enjoyed the baseball, fishing and racing games we’ve picked up for the newer model.

Of course, buying games is a challenge itself. Not only to folks (normally) shell out big bucks for the system, but then the games are all $30-50 and up. Not this family! We check the discount shelf at the used game store and for the half dozen games we own, haven’t paid more than 10 bucks. But I digress.

Back to the game ratings game. As most of you probably know, these games all come with a rating. “E” means it is supposedly appropriate for everyone, small children included. We pretty much stick with this one. “T” is for teen, which essentially means that as a teenager, you are now allowed to witness more violence, profanity and lewd/sexual content. And then we wonder why our kids are so desensitized to these things.

Interestingly enough, in looking for a game the other day my son found one that was rated “E” but then also said it contained some violence and profanity? So why not change the rating to “T”, according to their standard? Or are we now moving to this stuff being suitable for my seven-year-old? Anyway…

The real kicker is the “M” rating. “This game rated ‘M’ for Mature.” In world-speak, this means potentially lots of blood and violence, extreme language issues and most likely some gratuitous sex stuff thrown in for the heck of it.

Now, I know this is nothing new. Movie ratings are likewise suspect, with lewd humor being common in even G rated childrens' films; while movies with overt Christian themes are rated PG-13 for “thematic content” that may be objectionable. As in talking about Jesus. And, I digress again…

My issue with the “M” for mature thing is two fold. Number one, you and I both know that these games are primarily made for teens. The game systems in general are aimed that way and certainly marketed that way. And when they show these dazzling effects on the TV ad, even my 17 year old is impressed. So when they come on at the end with the rating, I’m sure most kids immediately say, “well then, I guess I won’t be buying or playing that game.” Yeah right. Just one more way to get worldly garbage into our homes.

But number two, and the real issue here (aren’t you glad I finally got there?!) is the whole idea of the word “mature.” Maturity carries with it the idea of being fully developed, moving beyond infancy; as in “grow up already.” And yet, these games, with their sex, profanity, etc. are really the height of immaturity. People who have matured shouldn’t be engrossed by games that promote childish, immature passions.

And therein lays the difference between the world’s standards and God’s. God’s Word tells us to seek maturity. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:20 “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” And we all know what that maturity means, putting away silly, childish, sinful things. As Paul also writes in that same letter: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Being a man, putting away childish ways, is to stop being fascinated with profanity and sexual titillation. Growing up means to act like an adult and get over the stupid potty humor, crude innuendo, etc. But the world tells us this stuff is for the “mature.” Talk about upside down, backwards, etc.

I could further digress into a discussion of the worldly idea of adolescence in general, and how we keep putting off further and further the expectation for our children to grow up and act like adults, but I guess that’s enough for now.

We ought to be seeking maturity. We ought to be putting childish ways behind us. And so it becomes obvious, or more obvious, that this means turning our back on the attitudes and ideas of this world. Instead, we need to be focused on God’s Word, God’ standards, godly attitudes and actions.

Some might argue this would mean forgetting about those silly games altogether. Personally, I don’t think a little video baseball hurts anything. (Although my wife just laughs at me when I brag about how many home runs I hit. “You know it’s just a game, right?”) But these things should be kept in check, never become overly time consuming, and certainly never overtake the amount of time we put into God’s Word and His service. God’s Word; now there’s something truly rated “M” for mature. May you grow up in it daily!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

God Told Me To Write This

I recently listened to a less than stellar sermon which raised many questions. I’m not trying to disparage the brother who gave the message. This isn’t about his delivery, his style, the length, the excitement, or any of those things. It has more to do with his handling of the text and the over all impression of God he left us with.

I really don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the several questionable aspects of this message. I really don’t want to attack or demean the brother, whom I respect. But in the midst of this message, the statement was made that “God told me to…” Really it doesn’t matter what the rest of the sentence said. The question is, did God really tell you to do whatever? Is that an accurate way to state something? Especially when what follows is not a direct Word based on Scripture but something totally different.

I know that God speaks to us. He does. He says He does. But how does He speak? Does He give audible words saying, “wear the blue sweater today.” Does He give us a soft, inner prompting to go ahead and order the chicken instead of fish?

I’m always uncomfortable when I hear a sentence that starts out “God told me…” Now, if you say, “God told me that…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing wit the glory that is to be revealed in us” then I’m with you. Scripture states that in Romans 8:18. And what God has said in His Word, He continues to say today.

It’s providential that Tim Challies has just finished a series of articles about the issue of God speaking today. I’d be wasting my time, and yours, to try and repeat or duplicate what he has already so adequately written. I urge you to read this four part series (part one, part two, part three, part four). Parts two and three are especially relevant here.

The basic point to remember is Hebrews 1:1-2 “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (ESV) Yes God did speak audibly to His people. Yes, He clearly could still do that. However, what He has told us is that He speaks to us now through His Son, through His Word. His Word is our guide. I don’t need Him to “tell” me to do this or that regarding any situation when He has already given me the basic principle in His Word. I don’t need God to “tell” me to do something nice for my wife when He has already told me in His Word to love my wife as Christ loved the church.

I know sometimes it’s only a matter of semantics. We mean to say that based on God’s Word and in obedience to that Word in this situation, I feel led by God’s Spirit to act in a certain way. But to say “God told me…” implies something very different. And implications have consequences.

We send people home with the idea to “wait on God” and to look for some mystical experience where God “speaks to us.” We’re not mystics, folks. We are people of the Word. Pick up your Bible and let Him speak to you. Then obey His Word for His glory. God told me to tell you that!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Indy to Eternity: A Weldon’s Reflections on Wheldon

I’ve always been more of a NASCAR fan. Maybe I’m just too much of a redneck, I don’t know. But when it comes down to it, fast cars are fast cars, and so the boys and I have also followed a little F1 and IndyCar over the years.

Our interest in open wheel racing was heightened by the emergence of a driver named Dan Wheldon. My mom has spent a lot of time the last few years tracing our family roots, and so far we have it traced all the way back to Nottinghamshire, England to a man named Gabriel Whelden who came to this country about 1638 . The name has undergone a few changes over the years: Wheldon, Whilden, Weldon. If you’ve done genealogy stuff, you know how this is.

Anyway. Coming from English Whelden/Wheldon/Weldon stock, we’ve always considered Dan part of the family. Can’t prove it, but we still claim him. Sort of like our claim to Clemson University since part of the college was built on land purchased from our family for a dollar an acre back in the day. The kids always watch for scores and root for “Weldon U”, which is ranked No. 7 right now. But I digress.

As most are aware, Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific crash in yesterday’s IndyCar race. We don’t have satellite or cable, so anytime a race is on a channel we can get, we’re thrilled. So we settled in yesterday afternoon to watch this championship battle, along with the possibility of “cousin” Dan winning a five million dollar bonus. (Long story, look it up if you’re interested)

We watched in horror along with everyone else as a 15 car melee ensued only a few laps in. As soon as we saw Dan’s car go airborne, we knew things looked bad. When the tarps came out on his car, we knew it was bad. And of course, then the announcement came.

It was a sad, sad day for racing. Dan was a quality champion and this year’s Indy 500 winner. We are certainly praying for those who are his “real” family: his wife and two young sons chief among them.

What all of this served to remind us, as we reflected on how fast the how thing happened, was how brief this life truly is. And how quickly it can all end. A friend of ours lost a “legit” cousin last week when a car crossed the center line and hit him head on. My wife’s uncle is having surgery today for colon cancer. It can happen anytime, anywhere, not just to race car driver’s doing over 220 mph.

As they say, the stats on death are sobering: one out of one dies. This life is but a blip on the screen, or as Scripture says, “a vapor.” It’s a mist that is hear one minute and gone the next.

Death is a part of life because sin is a part of life. When Adam sinned, we all died. While the death of Dan Wheldon is tragic and shocking, it should also be a reminder that death is an inevitability we all face. And that being the case, we ought to prepare ourselves for it.

People went nuts a few years ago with the whole Y2K thing. Some clever folks made millions selling survival kits and so on as we prepared for the end of the world as we know it because of the coming computer collapse. Of course, it didn’t happen, but thousands had spent thousands making preparation.

How much more should we be preparing for something we KNOW will come. Death is a sure thing. But life is still possible. Scripture tells us that Christ has overcome death. He has made a way for sinful men to escape the penalty of sin and find forgiveness and life through faith in His work on the cross.

Sure, because of sin we all deserve death, and we all deserve the hell that follows. God is pure and holy and righteous, and we can never stand in His presence on our own. But Christ’s perfection can be ours by faith, and we can look forward to the end of life in this world because of the promise of His pardon and presence in the next.

I don’t know where “cousin” Dan stood with Christ. I never read anything or heard anything that would lead me to believe he experience conversion in Christ. To me, that’s even more tragic than the crash. His entrance into eternity was so quick, but not really unexpected. We all know we’ll get there some day. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared.

You may not race a rocket on wheels, but it can happen just as quickly to you. A car head on in your lane. The “C” word spoken by your doctor. Regardless of the circumstance, it’s coming for each of us. I pray you will be prepared. Seek God in His Word. Repent of your sin and rest in the finished work of Christ. Find a good Bible centered church who can teach you and pray with you about these things until God settles them in your heart. But please, don’t ignore this reality. The leap from Indy, or from wherever you are, to Eternity is briefer than you think. Seek Christ today!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Want to be a Hymn Writer. What Do You Think?

I love old hymns. I’ve written about that frequently here, about my collection of antique hymnals, etc. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed is reading some of the stories behind the hymns, what prompted the hymn writer to pen these specific words, etc. Often it was a life circumstance, or a particular verse of Scripture. Many times I’ve read that a song leader heard a particular sermon and was inspired to write a hymn in response, or even in advance to use with a particular sermon. I kind of like that.

Our worship leader, Matt, is very good about trying to find music that goes with our message for the day. We’re both convinced that the whole worship experience is “helped” by at least trying to provide some unity. For example, if I’m going to be preaching about wrath, it might be counterproductive to sing nothing but “feel good” songs. It just seems that there should be some flow to the worship so we’re all going in the right direction.

So, at the first of the week I send Matt the text, titles and outlines for the next Sunday’s messages and he does his best to try and “match” things up. And he usually does a wonderful job. Yet, sometimes, in spite all his efforts, it’s just tough to find something that really fits.

Take this week for example. In going through the book of Luke, we’ve made it up to chapter 17. The first few verses are dealing with the seriousness of sin; the danger of leading others into sin; and the response to others when they sin against us. Let’s face it, there aren’t really a bunch of good “sin” songs. In particular, Jesus says here that if we lead others into sin, it would be better for us to tie a millstone around our neck and be dumped in the ocean. Pretty serious stuff. How do you sing about that?

Matt sent me a note this week saying basically it’s really tough to find songs for this sort of thing. So I suggested that we ought to do like those old hymn writers and write our own. I suggested the following as a first verse and chorus and left if up to Matt to put music to it. Tell me what you think:

Don't cause those little 'uns to stumble
Better for you if you'd just crumble

Into a heap and then make a leap

With a millstone wrapped 'round your neck.

Oh, a millstone wrapped 'round your neck

It'll take you straight down to...heck

So watch out for sin

And don't lead anyone in
Or it's a millstone wrapped 'round your neck

I’m really excited about this. Can't wait to hear the music Matt comes up with. Once we put a couple more verse to it, I’m thinking this will catch on and be the next big thing in worship songs. Ya think?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reflections on Solitude, Part Five (final)

This last entry will be quick (relatively) and simple. Spending two days alone on a “spiritual retreat” was a profitable time in many, many ways. Turning off the world for awhile, slowing down, listening to God’s Word; it’s something I urge others to do and look forward to doing again myself. However, two days away from my wife and children reminded me just how much they mean to me.

I have friends in the ministry who have had struggles in their marriages. One brother had a wife who never wanted to be a pastor’s wife but thought she could change his mind about his ministry calling. When she didn’t, she left. Recently, it seems there has been this surge in pastor’s I know whose wives are leaving them for various reasons, or who are otherwise struggling with marriages that are anything but a blessing to them and their ministry.

Praise God for Cheryl Weldon! That woman is a gift from God. I don’t know what I would do without her. She is my best friend, my biggest supporter, my most honest critic, and the love of my life. She is godly woman and an extraordinary mother. I recently read a post over at Brian Croft’s Practical Shepherding which reminded me again just how difficult the job of pastor’s wife is and how important she is as well. Two days away from that wonderful woman was enough to remind me how little I want to be away from that woman.

Likewise, God has blessed me with four extraordinary children. I’ve already been dealing with the separation issue now that our oldest is in her second year of college. I miss her every day, even though she calls me almost every day. In fact, sometimes the calls just make it worse! The other three are just as precious, and I’m already trying to prepare myself for the heartbreak when they abandon me, too!

I know there are all those stereotypes of PK’s, and I’ll be the first to admit that our kids aren’t perfect. But God has done amazing things in their lives, and He is building them to be godly men and women, for which I am so grateful. Again, being out of contact with them all for 48 hours reminded me just how much a part of my life they are. Sure, I’ve been away before, for a week or more sometimes; but this just reminded me how precious those kids are to me.

I realize I have to be careful. Family can become an idol in this life just like anything else. And I’m thankful to say that missing my family wasn’t a distraction at all during my retreat time. That time alone was very helpful, very meaningful, and I need to do it more often, I’m sure. Yet, it made me appreciate the gift God has given me in my wife and children.

So, final lesson: My family is a great blessing.

Response: Make sure they know that! Treat them as the blessings they are, let them know how much I love and appreciate them, and never make them feel like they are second place to the “mistress” the church can sometimes be.

Well, that wraps it up. As I said earlier, this may not benefit anyone but me. I just needed to write all this down, to get it “out there” so I can be reminded myself of the value of this time with God. Again, I highly recommend it for anyone who has never had the opportunity. You won’t regret it. And if you happen to be close to the St. Louis area, check out the Vision of Peace Hermitages. It’s a wonderful place to spend a little time alone with God.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reflections on Solitude, Part Four

I had originally planned to knock out all of these little reflections in a week’s time. I had five of them in mind, and the plan was to do one a day last week. As usual, my plans were sidetracked by a little bit of everything; won’t bore you with the details. Instead, I’ll just bore you with the next installment here.

One book that I took along with me on my little retreat was a biography of missionary David Brainerd by Vance Christie. I first heard of, and became interested in, Brainerd almost 25 years ago when I spent a summer on a Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota as a summer missionary. Since Brainerd may be the most well known missionary to the Indian (Native American for the PC) people, it was probably obvious for me to read about him at the time. Especially when my wife and I then went back to that same reservation for three years after seminary.

Thanks in large part to Jonathan Edwards and his publication of Brainerd’s diary, many know about this remarkable man of God. I enjoyed Christie’s arrangement of the missionary’s all too brief life and ministry. For those who don’t know, Brainerd died from tuberculosis at the age of 29, after only four short years of ministry. Yet, what an impact he made in those four years.

I don’t want to just recount his missionary exploits. I encourage you to pick up a copy of this journal or the biography or even John Piper’s much briefer version in the Swans are Not Silent series. Instead, I want to reflect on the overall lesson learned here. Actually, there are many, many things I learned from Brainerd’s life, but this one overarching theme stands out. Here it is: We’re Spoiled!

That’s it. See you next time.

Oh, I guess I should elaborate just a bit. Nearly ever other page of Christie’s book would say something like this. Brainerd fell suddenly ill and was unable to minister for several days. The man was constantly battling illness, constantly besieged by the emotional and spiritual struggles that come with such illness, and yet continued to find strength in Christ to push on.

He traveled thousands of miles on horseback, through the roughest terrain imaginable, actually becoming lost on more than one occasion, fighting the weather, living in the most challenging conditions, etc. And yet he pushed on, preaching the gospel everywhere he found people. Yes, his primary ministry was to the Indian people, but he would stop and preach anywhere to anyone. His sole desire, and soul desire, was to be a “flame for God.”

And we complain about the petty struggles in our life. We are so spoiled. And by “we” I mean primarily the American church. I know there are others out there even today who are continuing to live in harsh circumstances, even under persecution. Yet, the American church is busy fighting over worship styles and suits vs. jeans and whatever else we can whine about. We’re spoiled.

So many in this country have never known a single day of the kind of sacrifice men like Brainerd made. And yet even death wasn’t enough to frighten him. Granted, his bouts with despondency often made him wish for death, but even at the end, as his illness made death a certainty, his view was one that looked to it for what I would call the “right reason.” He said, “Oh, the glorious time is now coming! I have longed to serve God perfectly: Now God will gratify those desires!”

Lesson number four, then, would simply be this: I’m spoiled.

My response: I need to grow up and live for Christ with every ounce of my being and stop whining about whatever little tribulation might come my way. God is greater than any trial, and Brainerd is proof that a life lived in Him can overcome any of those things and have great impact on the kingdom (especially in light of lesson three in the previous post!)

Thank God for the ministry of men like David Brainerd.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reflections on Solitude, Part Three

It must be a conspiracy. As I spent my two day “spiritual retreat” with a combination of Bible reading, sermon listening, and a couple other selected books, they all started saying pretty much the same thing. Don’t you hate it when God puts something in front of your face so plainly that you just can’t ignore it?!

One of the books I brought along was “Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer.” Essentially it is just what it says. It’s a collection of essays written about various Puritan pastors and writers and their view of the centrality of prayer in the Christian life. Sounded like a good book to take along on a prayer retreat, right?

What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that the emphasis over and over in this book was the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives in order for our prayer to be effective. Not that I didn’t know that, but it kept coming up again and again.

For example, Thomas Manton pointed out that Spirit-less prayer is as good as “a little cold prattle and spiritless talk.” Ouch! Why don’t you just way what you mean, Mr. Manton? William Fenner was equally as subtle, describing prayer without the Spirit’s help as being no better than “the lowing of oxen, or the grunting of hogs.” And John Bunyan simply pointed out the praying without the Holy Spirit’s assistance could not possibly be “according to the will of God.”

From Luther and Calvin, to Knox and Edwards, there was a common theme not only of the absolutely necessity of prayer in the Christian’s life, but of the Trinitarian nature of such prayer. For the most part, we know to go to God the Father, and we know to go to Him through God the Son, but often we neglect to realize that we need to go in the power of God the Holy Spirit. He teaches us the mind of Christ. He motivates us to purity and holiness. He even “helps us in our weakness” as Paul says in Romans 8. Romans 8... Hmmm… Just where I happened to be reading in my Bible at the time!

And to top it off, I was listening to a series of messages from Art Azurdia which he preached at the beginning of Trinity Church in Portland: Distinguishing Features of a Gospel Congregation. And the first sermon I happened to listen to was “Radical Dependence.” It’s about, you guessed it, radical dependence of the Holy Spirit.

Less face it. Us non-Charismatic types are so anti-Charismatic sometimes that we don’t even like to talk about the Holy Spirit. We’re afraid people will think we’re going to start running around the room and barking like dogs (don’t laugh, folks, it happens all the time in some of these pseudo-churches). But ignoring the work of God’s Spirit is dangerous.

What I came to realize from these multiple messages was that our church may be stagnant because we are not living in total dependence on God’s Spirit. This preacher may be stagnant because he’s not living in total dependence on God’s Spirit. The old cliché question came to mind: what is your church doing now that if God’s Spirit were removed, you would keep on doing without even noticing a major change?” I don’t think I like the honest answer to that.

Along those lines, another of message from Pastor Azurdia spoke of “Passionate Expectancy." Essentially he asked: what is our church asking God to do that only God can do so when He does it, only He gets the glory.” Not the biggest Blackaby fan, but he may have gotten that part right.

Are we living, truly, each and every day in total dependence of God’s Spirit? Honestly, I have to say “no.” I live way too much in the flesh. I depend way too much on my own wisdom and strength. I trust far too much in my own ideas, my own agenda, and my own power to accomplish it. No wonder I’m running in circles sometimes.

It’s been said many times that the spiritual temperature of any church can be measured in its prayer meetings. So how’s it going for you? Remember, Jesus said He would rather us be hot or cold, because being lukewarm makes Him sick.

Again, this is stuff we know. But is it stuff we live out? Is our prayer, our preaching, our ministry, our very lives being lived out daily in the power of God’s Spirit? I don’t know about you, but I think I want to see what things might be like if I could answer “yes.”

So, lesson number three: I/we need a radical dependence on the Holy Spirit.

My response: I will focus more on prayer, and in that prayer focus more consciously on trusting in/leaning on God’s Spirit; and I will encourage our church to do the same. Won’t you join me?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reflections on Solitude, Part Two

Okay, confession time. I didn’t spend my two days completely without any kind of electronic/technology device. I brought my mp3 player stocked with a few sermons I had downloaded and hadn’t got around to listening to yet. In fact, that’s another problem with technology in general. There is so much available out there, and so little time to take advantage.

Two of my favorite guys to listen to are Art Azurdia and Voddie Baucham. I download their stuff frequently, but again, time restraints keep me from actually sitting down and listening to them. I was reminded how great a loss that is.

I plan to give some reflection to one or two of the actual messages I listened to from these brothers in a future post, but for right now I just want to say something about listening to sermons in general. And this is it: Listen to Sermons!

I know that all preachers would say that. We have to justify our existence somehow! But in all seriousness, I was reminded just how badly I need to be fed by the preaching of the Word.

For those who sit in the pews week by week, let me just urge you to “not grow weary in doing good.” I can only imagine what it must be like to come in and listen to me week after week. I’ve often talked with my wife about the burden it must be to have to sit there and smile and pretend she doesn’t know what a complete hypocrite I am. But seriously, regardless of how boring or non-boring your preacher is, if he is faithfully preaching the text, you need that feeding (read my previous post about what to do with boring preachers). Put the effort in and let God speak to you through that preacher.

As one who doesn’t get to do that week in and week out, I was reminded just how much I need it. Listening to a handful of sermons in those two days was one of the best parts of the whole thing. God used those messages to inspire, comfort, challenge and a host of other things. It was truly a blessing. And again, it reminded me just how much I need to be fed by the preaching of the Word. Sometimes we preachers get so caught up in the feeding of the sheep that we forget we are part of God’s flock as well, and need to be fed so that we are strong enough to go and feed others.

So if you attend a good Bible teaching church, thank God for that. Put your energy in to listening to those sermons as if you were listening for the very voice of God Himself (which you should be). Allow God to use the preaching of His Word to motivate you, strengthen you, challenge you and spur you on toward love and good deeds.

And for my brother pastors out there: Oh, my friend, find opportunities to listen to others' sermons. The internet is truly a blessing in that regard. We don’t have to skip out on our own church to hear good preaching elsewhere. I would encourage you to find time to hear at least one good sermon a week. Make the time. Don’t just listen to get an outline, or to borrow a quote, or otherwise see it as a “job” thing. Sit and listen as a hungry sheep and let your soul be fed.

So, lesson number two: Listen to sermons. We all need to be fed and nurtured.

My response: I will set aside time each and every week to listen to one good sermon. And I will take more seriously this task God has given me, and make sure that I’m seeking to truly feed the sheep.

Thank God for faithful men who bless His church with the preaching of the Word.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reflections on Solitude, Part One

I mentioned recently that I was planning a 48 hour “spiritual retreat” during which I would spend that time alone seeking God through His Word and prayer. I actually did that one week ago. I had planned to write some reflections on that time as soon as I got back, but you know how life is. Anyway, the plan is to take a couple of posts over the next few days and write out some of those reflections. They may or may not be of interest or use to anyone but me, but I want to write it out for my own sake.

I’ll begin in this first post by simply saying: it was harder than I thought. Being alone with my Bible, notebook and a couple other books, one of the first things I realized was how much of my time is taken up with the noise of technology: computers, internet, etc. Just me and some books for 48 hours was like being on another planet.

As I considered that, I began to question just how much of that “noise” is even necessary. I do nearly all of my Bible study and sermon prep on my laptop, so I guess that could be seen as a “necessity.” But then I realized that for the first 6 or 7 years of pastoral ministry, I didn’t have access to a computer of any kind. While the resources available make things more convenient, it’s certainly not a necessity.

Obviously, the internet isn’t a necessity at all. How many hours a week are wasted reading email, checking facebook, etc.? Even the “good” things like reading good biblical articles by some of my favorite writers/preachers often leads to time wasting as I chase one link after another.

For those 48 hours I was disconnected from all of that. And while at first I felt I was at a loss as to how to fill that time, I quickly found that the time reading, praying, walking down by the river, etc. was actually quite enjoyable and fruitful.

So, lesson number one from this time of solitude: Solitude is Good! Life can become too cluttered, too quickly, with things that may seem (and even be somewhat) helpful. I need to be more vigilant.

My response to this lesson: shut off the computer more often and listen.

More to come….