The Joy of the Incarnation - What One Great Hymn Teaches Us

This past Sunday evening I had an opportunity to comment upon one of the hymns we sang after the Cherub Choir pageant, Paul Gerhardt’s “All My Heart This Night Rejoices.” This hymn is not as familiar as some, yet its words richly repay our contemplation and meditation. Gerhardt begins by declaring his joy in the birth of Jesus:

All my heart this night rejoices
as I hear far and near
sweetest angel voices.
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing
till the air ev’rywhere
now with joy is ringing.

In the next six stanzas, Gerhardt give us several reasons why the incarnation of our Savior brings us such great joy.

1 – Because the incarnation was an act of war. Gerhardt sings in the second stanza,

Forth today the Conqu’ror goeth,
who the foe, sin and woe,
death and hell o’erthroweth.

 We probably don’t often think about the incarnation in this way (Herod certainly did when he sent his soldiers to kill all the babies in Bethlehem two and under; see Matthew 2:16-17). Yet we see the connection between the incarnation of the Word of God and His conflict with His and our enemies all the way back in Genesis 3:15, and even more particularly in Hebrews 2:14-15 – “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” Jesus became a man to deal the deathblow to Satan, sin, the woe and misery of sin, death itself, and the pains of hell forever.

2 – Because the incarnation is permanent. The second stanza continues,

God is man, man to deliver;
His death Son now is one
with our race forever.

Jesus’ incarnate state did not cease with His death, or His ascension to glory. He remains a man, and the dust of earth sits upon the throne of glory. He knows intimately what it is to be human still, and so can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. When the eternal Son of God took on human nature, He was affirming the goodness of our humanity, and He was assuring us that we too will live an embodied existence for all eternity. Though the intermediate state is disembodied, our souls being with Jesus while our bodies rest in the grave till the resurrection, yet for eternity we will walk on a new earth with our Savior.

3 – Because the incarnation was for the purpose of substitution. The third and fourth stanzas are rich indeed:

Shall we still dread God’s displeasure,
who, to save, freely gave
His most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us, he hath given
His own Son, from the throne
of His might in heaven.

He becomes the Lamb who taketh
sin away, and for aye [forever]
full atonement maketh.
For our life his own he tenders;
and our race, by his grace,
meet for glory renders.

We must never separate the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus. He was born in order that He might die. He became a man not only to be like us and with us, but also to die for us, as our substitute. The incarnation is for the purpose of atoning for the sins of His people. The wages of sin is death, but God cannot die. So the only way for God to reconcile sinners to Himself was to become us them in our humanity, so that He might obey and suffer in our nature. Because Jesus has died, the beautiful truth in stanza three is ours: we have no need to fear the displeasure or anger or wrath of God, for He has poured it all out on His beloved Son in our place. He gave His greatest Treasure for us, to make us wretches His treasured possession.

4 – The incarnation meets our deepest sadness. The fifth and sixth stanza ring out,

Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
soft and sweet, doth entreat,
“Flee from woe and danger.
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you,
you are freed; all you need
I will surely give you.”

Come, then, banish all your sadness,
one and all, great and small;
come with songs of gladness.
Love him who with love is glowing;
hail the star, near and far
light and joy bestowing.

Isaiah 53:3 tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He carried our griefs and sorrows, so that we might be freed ultimately from them forever. Because Jesus was born, we have hope, joy, gladness, and light. In this world we have sorrow, for Jesus has not returned. But by His incarnation, and all that flowed from it in His ministry on earth and in heaven, our sorrows are overwhelmed by the joy He gives us. We are called to banish our sadness from our hearts, for He has freed us from the penalty and power of sin, which cause our deepest sorrow, and promises to give us all we need for life and godliness – even the gift of gladness in times of distress.

5 – The incarnation gives us hope beyond the grave. Gerhardt closes his song with these words:

Dearest Lord, thee will I cherish.
Though my breath fail in death,
yet I shall not perish,
but with thee abide forever
there on high, in that joy
which can vanish never.

As those who trust in Christ Jesus the incarnate Word of God, we have absolute confidence that when we die, we will be with Him forever. And beyond that, as we have already mentioned above, we too will have a resurrected body on the last day. “He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body or His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21). And so with this confidence we rejoice with exceedingly great joy, now and forevermore.

Was John Chau A "Fool For Christ's Sake" or Merely A Fool?

If you have been watching the news, you have noticed the recent death of the Christian missionary John Chau. There has been much said about Chau and his mission, motives, and preparation. There have been several people who have written about him and my thoughts would do nothing to turn the tide nor add much to the discussion. What is unfortunate, in my opinion, is the amount of articles and responses that have come out so quickly before we have even looked into the entire story. Whether we would be justified in our opinions or not, our social media and immediacy age has warped how we critically think about events in the world. How often we develop our own theories and opinions based on hearing only a fraction of the story and background which can be blown out of context. There has even been one article that I have read recently from a very solid evangelical writer and ministry who wrote more scathingly about Chau and his mission. If one reads the article, you would come away thinking that we should never take any risks whatsoever in missions and that we should only do so if it makes total logical and logistical sense to us. I came away thinking, “This author doesn’t want me to leave the 99 sheep to go and find the 1.”

Yes, there are many things that need to be thought about and learned from this situation. Jesus Himself tells us to count the cost for following Him and certainly this should be our thoughts for the mission field as well. There is a grand difference between being a missionary for your own glory and truly desiring to serve Christ and His kingdom. Nevertheless, who are we to discern Chau’s motives from afar (from very far) especially when we have very little information nor have talked to people who knew him and helped him prepare. We need to see also the many positive lessons to be learned. If we are honest, some of our reactions against Chau might be because of our idolatry of comfort and only wanting Jesus to be apart of our resume and reputation rather than our Sovereign Lord and Infinitely Glorious King. What both “sides” (this article is certainly another example of our polarizing and side-taking culture that we have in America and in American evangelicalism) need is to learn from Chau. Through all this, let’s remember, this is a man who died. From all accounts of Chau’s walk with Christ, this is a man who we will delight to be with in heaven to come. This is not a lab rat for our Christian culture.

That brings in Ed Stetzer’s article at the Washington Post. Stetzer has written the best article by far, that I have come across in my very limited research, that gives us careful considerations and also challenges us. You might have your own reactions to the mission and death of Chau but I would encourage you to read Stetzer’s article before coming to your own conclusion. And when you do, and when you pass it on to others, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does it mean to be a wise “fool for Christ’s sake”?

  • How much do I idolize my comfort?

  • Do I seek to evangelize only on mission trips or am I doing so in my everyday life?

  • Was this a tragedy?

  • How has my own culture shaped my view of missions?

  • How has my own culture shaped my view of what it means to be a Christian?

  • How do we take this and use it to teach our children and grandchildren about missions (whether to learn from mistakes or to learn from good example or both)?

  • Are we remembering that this is a man (and a Christian on top of that!) that has died and not merely a missionary lab rat for us to talk about?

  • Do we think of heaven or are we consumed with this life?

  • How does this prepare us to live and raise children in our own culture that is beginning to persecute Christianity more and more?

  • What can I learn from the rest of Christian history and other biographies that might help me grow in wisdom and passion for missions?

The following is an excerpt from Stetzer’s article and the part that I think we need to hear most. For the full article, click here. Stetzer will challenge both “sides” and leave us thinking more humbly about John Chau.

There are certainly differences between [Jim] Elliot and Chau, but what has really changed is our culture. People are much more negative about missions, partly because of mistakes that missionaries have made, such as colonialism, a lack of cultural awareness and more. But, for many critics, it is the core goal of conversion itself they object to.

I grieve for John Chau and his family. He made his choices because he loved the North Sentinelese. You might see it as a waste. You might point out his mistakes, even after learning that he had worked hard to prepare for his mission.

But, as I write this, less than 100 feet away is a letter Jim Elliot wrote. As a Wheaton College graduate, he has a special place here. As Elliot wrote (and Chau experienced), “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Here at Elliot’s alma mater, we still believe and train missionaries. To some, that makes us the fools. But we pray our students will engage in their culture and others well and in appropriate ways, with care for the health and well-being of all, and with others in partnership.

If that makes us fools, we will be “fools for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10).

Youth Ministry Sermons

Since this past Spring, we have been recording our sermons from the Wednesday Night Large Group sessions in our youth ministry. The purpose of recording them is for the benefit of the church for those who miss, to listen to again, or for those who would like to pass them on to a friend or family. Currently, we have our entire sermon series on Judges, Mark, Jonah, and The Gospel & Sexuality. This coming Spring, we will be preaching through the book of Exodus and in the summer we will be preaching various sermons on Prayer. Lord willing, we will begin our series on Romans in Fall 2019. There are other sermons from chapels, FCAs, and youth retreats as well. To access the sermons, visit the "Resources” tab and then click on “Other Audio Messages” or you can just click here.

Where Do You Find Yourself on this Idolatry Chart?

Stephen Speaks, the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS, recently shared with me a chart he developed based on material from Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Idolatry Chart from Stephen Speaks.jpg

On the left hand side four broad categories of idols are listed: comfort, approval, control, and power. These idols are at the root of our sinful choices, feelings, and words. Along the top six categories unpack the idols in their practical outworking in our lives.

These idols so often go unrecognized in our lives because they masquerade as good qualities in our hearts and lives. Someone with an idol of comfort can often present themselves as a laidback, easygoing person. Likewise, someone with an idol of control can come across as very competent. In each case, the idolatry tends to be hidden by the genuine good character trait(s) that we can possess when enslaved by the idol.

The next column shows the price we are willing to pay to serve our false god. Those worshipping power are willing to bear enormous burdens and responsibilities to get their lust fulfilled. Those who long for approval will tend to sacrifice independence if only they are accepted by others.

The third column is the inverse of the second - what is it that we most fear when we are ruled by these idols? What do we not want to happen? This column can be most helpful in identifying which idol(s) has captured your heart.

The fourth and fifth columns speak to how our idolatries affect us and other people. What are the emotional manifestations that we will struggle with, and how will others be impacted by our functional idolatry? The person living for control will typically be filled with anxiety, and will make others feel condemned. The person living for the approval of man will be filled with fear and cowardice, and will make others feel smothered. In neither case will we actually get what we want, either in relation to ourselves or others.

The final column of the chart depicts the gospel reality that each idol counterfeits. Our idols promise us what only can be found through faith in Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Recognizing this truth day by day, moment by moment, moves us from idolatry to repentance and trust in God’s mercy.

Spend time meditating on your own life in relation to this chart, and pray that the Lord would expose and root up the idols of your heart.

20 Quotes on Corporate Prayer

The following is an excerpt from an article that was originally posted by The Gospel Coalition featuring 20 quotes from John Onwuchekwa's new book Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church (Crossway, 2018). The reason why I wanted to repost this is not merely to recommend what seems to be a resource that would be worth our time but also to inspire us with these quotes. As you read these, you might be struck with many thoughts about your prayer life as an individual and own prayer life as a corporate body. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a seminary class on Ecclesiology. The professor was pointing out to us some of the earliest mentions of the Church in the Bible. He took us Genesis 4:26 where it says, "At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD." He then said something like this (which I am paraphrasing to the best of my ability), "What makes the Church the Church? It is a corporate body of people who pray or call out to God. When we withhold prayer from God we withhold worship from God." Essentially, what he was saying is what Onwuchekwa will expound on in a greater form  in his book. So as we read these quotes, here are some of my own questions for us to reflect on:

  1. Do we pray (not do we just say our prayers)?

  2. What does it look like to have a life of prayer with our family and church family?

  3. If I did not pray for a week, would anything change about me?

  4. If we as Pear Orchard did not pray for a month, would there be any difference?

  5. Do we pray only or mainly for physical needs or do we pray for the ability to live the Christian life, conversion of unbelievers, protection against temptation, deliverance from sin, or anything that involves the spiritual aspect of life?

Here are 20 quotes from John Onwuchekwa:

“Of all the books that have been written on prayer, this one has a very specific purpose: examining how prayer shapes the life of the church. So much has been written about prayer as an individual discipline. Not much has been written about prayer as a necessary and communal activity that shapes local churches, either by its presence or absence (though Megan Hill’s Praying Together is helpful [Crossway, 2016]).” (15)

“It’s so much easier to read about prayer than to actually pray.” (16)

“Prayer is oxygen for the Christian. It sustains us. So it follows that prayer must be a source of life for any community of Christians. It is to the church what it is to individuals—breathing. Yet many of our gatherings could be likened to people coming together merely to hold their collective breath. This would explain why people seem to have so little energy for actually living out the Christian life.” (23)

“Prayer was never meant to be a merely personal exercise with personal benefits, but a discipline that reminds us how we’re personally responsible for others. This means that every time we pray, we should actively reject an individualistic mindset. We’re not just individuals in relationship with God, but we are part of a community of people who have the same access to God. Prayer is a collective exercise.” (41)

“This prayer for God’s presence to be seen and enjoyed is quite startling to a world that prefers for God to be an absentee Father that just sends a big child-support check each month. Because we’re sinful, we would prefer God to give us our demands while demanding nothing in return. We love to set the agenda. But Jesus teaches us here that God’s presence precedes his provision. His agenda is far better than ours.” (48–49)

“The Lord’s Prayer is supernatural. Sure, anyone can parrot the words, but only those who have been internally changed truly desire what it asks for. The words are not a magical incantation. Saying them out loud isn’t the goal. Slave owners probably recited the Declaration of Independence’s ‘All men are created equal’ hundreds of times. Parroting words does no good. Jesus isn’t creating parrots, but pray-ers.” (51)

“The local church is the best way to define the ‘us’ in our prayers. . . . The Christian in covenant with a local church is never alone. As long as the church endures, which will be for all eternity, the Christian is always part of an ‘us.’ The local church takes the theory of Christianity and makes it tangible—in love, deed, and especially in prayer.” (62)

“Jesus stared death square in the face, knowing his fate was inescapable. How did he face it? On his knees in prayer.” (70)

“While prayer may start with believing God can do the impossible, peace is never found there. If we only imagine what God can do and then judge his goodness by how often he does the impossible for us, we’ll never find true peace. His ability should cause our hearts to soar and ask for the impossible. But his sovereignty and wisdom should keep us grounded. They remind us that although God can do the impossible, he doesn’t have to—and we can trust him regardless. Peace is found here and only here. Any other arrangement ends only in discontentment, especially if we hold God hostage to an outcome he’s never promised. We’ll always lack peace when we judge God’s love for us by how many of our prayers are answered with a ‘yes.’ False hope is the most fertile soil for a crop of discontentment.” (71–72)

“The story of Gethsemane is as much about the power of prayer as it is about the inevitable failure that comes from prayerlessness. . . . Jesus’s faithfulness to do God’s task is directly tied to his prayer. The disciples’ faithlessness is directly tied to their prayerlessness.” (75)

“You can’t shout about God’s forgiveness if you’re stingy with your own.” (83)

“God wants a deep relationship with his people. And the deeper the relationship, the more varied the communication. We explore the wonder of who God is during our prayer of adoration. We embrace the mercy he provides during our prayer of confession. We reflect on all he’s done for us during our prayer of thanksgiving. We lean on him and feel his strength during our prayer of supplication. By including these prayers in our Sunday service, we display the width and depth of our relationship with God.” (88)

“A church that practices prayer is more than a church that learns; it’s also a church that leans. . . . We learn dependence by leaning on God together.” (92)

“Prayer is mentioned no less than twenty-one times in Acts. Furthermore, these prayers are inherently corporate. Whenever prayer is mentioned, it overwhelmingly involves others.” (95)

“[A prayer meeting] is different from praying during corporate worship, but it’s just as necessary. Prayer during corporate worship is the potatoes to the steak of the preached Word. In the prayer meeting, the roles are reversed. Now our prayer with one another becomes the main dish. We care for each other best as we lean on God together.” (96)

“The prayer meeting isn’t meant to be a theme park. It’s more like a storage facility, and we’re all cars without trunks. We were never meant to store up our concerns within ourselves (see Ps. 13:2). We were meant to offload those things to God. The prayer meeting isn’t a place of attraction, but a place of necessity. It’s a place where people come with burdens and leave without them because they’ve been placed in God’s hands. Here, we come together to lean on God with each other, for the sake of each other. Where’s that space for your church?” (96–97)

“The prayer list—not the Sunday service elements, not the preaching style, not even the ethnic makeup of the leadership of the church—is often where the battle for diversity is won or lost. What makes the prayer list is often a reflection of who’s praying and whose problems are seen as real, relevant, and important. A friend of mine was a part of a church that refused to pray for anything related to Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Eric Gardner, Laquawn McDonald, or any other African American who was killed at the hands of law enforcement, because those issues were ‘too politicized’ and would cause division in their church. This frustrated her. She didn’t want her church to march on Washington or hang a Black Lives Matter flag from the steeple. She simply wanted them to pray corporately on these matters because she knew they were deeply significant to many of the minorities in the church. . . . The battle for diversity is still won or lost here today. Diversity is more about priorities than programs. And a church prays for what it prioritizes. Your prayer lists essentially serve as price tags on current events and church concerns—assigning value or diminishing it. Therefore, don’t populate the prayer list in isolation. Populate the list with the concerns of all the flock. The honorable strides toward diversity are maximized when we pray together to our Father who has no favorite children (see Acts 10:34).” (101–02)

“As we pray for salvations, we realize that God’s sovereignty diminishes only our anxiety and apathy, not our activity.” (113)

“When it comes to singing, everybody wants a composed song. But when it comes to prayer, many insist on improvisation. Preparing prayers beforehand isn’t the enemy of authenticity. It’s an ally of clarity and an expression of love, not just for God but for others. Writing prayers beforehand and offering them up to God in the presence of his people isn’t any less authentic than writing a letter to your wife and giving it to her the next day. The words of the letter are heartfelt. She might even be more appreciative that you took the time to clarify your thoughts and put them down on paper. Preparation is a helpful way to communicate your heart clearly.” (123–24)

“The power of our prayers isn’t found in the number of people praying, but the willingness of the One to whom we’re praying.” (126)

For the full article, click here.

 

John Donne's Holy Sonnets Are A Rich Feast for the Soul

Poetry probably isn’t the first thing we rush to read every morning, and yet we all know the power of a poem. What is a song, but a type of poem set to music? And which of us has not been impacted deeply by the lyrics to some song?

If you’ve never read any of John Donne’s “Holy Sonnets,” you’ve missed out on a rare source of spiritual nourishment and soul-formation. Here are three that set forth Christian truth in such a memorable and vivid way - make sure to read them slowly (even out loud), and more than once, to taste the full sweetness of Donne’s imagery and word choice.

Wilt thou love God as he thee?

Wilt thou love God as he thee? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make His temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting—for he ne'er begun—
Hath deigned to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to His glory, and Sabbath's endless rest.
And as a robbed man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy it again,
The Sun of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom He had made, and Satan stolen, to unbind.
'Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more. 

Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee do go, 
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? 
One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. 

Batter my heart

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you 
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; 
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend 
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new. 
I, like an usurped town, to another due, 
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end; 
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, 
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue. 
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, 
But am betrothed unto your enemy; 
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again, 
Take me to you, imprison me, for I, 
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, 
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 

Why Do Youth Stay In Church When They Go To College?

Former Youth Minister Jon Nielson writes an article for The Gospel Coalition about why some of his students stayed in the church when they went to college and why some of them didn’t. I couldn’t agree more with him on this. To read the full article, click here. Here is an excerpt:

“What do we do about our kids?” The group of parents sat together in my office, wiping their eyes. I'm a high school pastor, but for once, they weren't talking about 16-year-olds drinking and partying. Each had a story to tell about a “good Christian” child, raised in their home and in our church, who had walked away from the faith during the college years. These children had come through our church's youth program, gone on short-term mission trips, and served in several different ministries during their teenage years. Now they didn't want anything to do with it anymore. And, somehow, these mothers' ideas for our church to send college students “care packages” during their freshman year to help them feel connected to the church didn't strike me as a solution with quite enough depth.

The daunting statistics about churchgoing youth keep rolling in. Panic ensues. What are we doing wrong in our churches? In our youth ministries? It's hard to sort through the various reports and find the real story. And there is no one easy solution for bringing all of those “lost” kids back into the church, other than continuing to pray for them and speaking the gospel into their lives. However, we can all look at the 20-somethings in our churches who are engaged and involved in ministry. What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Here are just a few observations I have made about such kids, with a few applications for those of us serving in youth ministry.

Article: "Technologists...are increasingly wary about exposing their kids to screen time"

I am no technology expert nor am I a cultural expert but merely a mailman delivering documents from the experts. Nevertheless, this is an article, and a topic, that we need to heed. We should never do something just because the masses are doing it as well. How would you react if I suggested the following:

Students should not have a phone until they can drive. OR Students should not have a smartphone until college.

We believe in Christian freedom but can our resolve for Christian freedom with technology actually enslave us? I wonder how many of us, even myself, read the comments of this article and shrink back from it. Here is an excerpt:

Some of the people who built video programs are now horrified by how many places a child can now watch a video.

Asked about limiting screen time for children, Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who for years directed product for YouTube at Google, sent a photo of a potty training toilet with an iPad attached and wrote: "Hashtag 'products we didn't buy'." Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg's philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: "I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children." Ms Chavarria did not let her children have cellphones until high school, and even now bans phone use in the car and severely limits it at home.

She said she lives by the mantra that the last child in the class to get a phone wins. Her daughter did not get a phone until she started ninth grade.

"Other parents are like, 'Aren't you worried you don't know where your kids are when you can't find them?'," Ms Chavarria said. "And I'm like, 'No, I do not need to know where my kids are every second of the day'." For longtime tech leaders, watching how the tools they built affect their children has felt like a reckoning on their life and work.

For the full article, click here. For a previous post on technology by Caleb Cangelosi, click here.

This Getty Hymn Helps us Remember Who We Are and Whose We Are

One of the foundational principles of the Christian life is our union with Christ. We are in Him, and He is in us by His Spirit. We are accepted in the Beloved, and belong to Him. Our unbreakable relationship with Him supplies to us the surest ground of significance, and our deepest identity.

One of the songs that so beautifully speaks of this reality is the Gettys’ “My Worth is Not in What I Own.” This hymn covers a variety of topics: stewardship, accomplishment, youth and beauty, idolatry, worth, and the atoning work of Christ on our behalf. The Gettys have written about the back-story of this hymn here. Read and be encouraged as to who you are and whose you are, and sing out with joy the next time we use this song in corporate worship!

The Gospel and Sports (RYM Youth Leader Podcast)

Last week, I was able to record a series of podcasts with John Perritt on the issue of sports and youth culture. We discussed my testimony in the sports world, the good aspects and blessings of sports, the bad aspects of sports, how the prosperity gospel has affected the sports world, and finally about some tips for parents who have children who play sports. Each podcast is around 15 minutes on average that is a good resource to listen to in the car. To listen to the podcasts, download the “Podcast” app from the App Store on your iPhone, search “The Local Youth Worker Podcast”, and look for the podcast label that has the RYM logo on it. There are five episodes, one for each day of the week, and they are episodes 231-235. If you prefer to listen to them online, click here to listen to them.

Aging in Grace - two quotes from my sermon

Several of you asked for the quotations from the end of my sermon this past Sunday morning. The first was from Archibald Alexander’s “Letters to the Aged,” which I’ve just reprinted under the title Aging in Grace: Letters to Those in the Autumn of Life. Here’s an expanded version of his encouraging words:

As an aged man, I would say to my fellow-pilgrims who are also in this advanced stage of the journey of life, endeavor to be useful, as long as you are continued upon earth. We are, it is true, subject to many peculiar infirmities, both of body and mind, to bear up under which requires much exertion, and no small share of divine assistance; but still we have some advantages not possessed by the young. We have received important lessons from experience, which if they have been rightly improved, are of inestimable value. The book of divine providence, which is in a great measure sealed to them, has been unfolded to us. We can look back and contemplate all the way along which the Lord has led us. We can now see the wise design of our Father, in many events, which, at the time, were dark and mysterious…I would affectionately entreat my aged brethren to make the dealings of God’s providence towards themselves, a subject of careful study. There is within our reach, except in the Bible, no source of instruction more important.

The second was from Thomas Brooks, in his book Precious Remedies for Satan’s Devices, a Puritan Paperback published by Banner of Truth. It’s a marvelous exposition of all the ways Satan seeks to tempt us to sin, and I’m benefiting greatly from it in my morning private worship. Here is what Brooks said:

Your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, and your reward sure; therefore faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of well-doing, and heaven shall make amends for all.

May the Lord encourage us as grow older in the strong arms of His grace each day!

Quote of the Day

This quote from Francis Grimke (1850-1937) comes from Caleb Cangelosi’s compilation of Grimke’s “Meditations On Preaching”. This is not necessarily about preaching but rather it is a quote that I think strikes at the heart of our culture today.

The man to be respected and held in high estimation is not the one whose home is expensively furnished but the one whose soul is arrayed in the beautiful garments of righteousness, however meager his material resources may be. It is the man of upright character, of sterling worth, that is to be respected and honored.

Suffering and Psalm 63

If you are suffering today, or this week, or this year, and you haven’t spent time in Psalm 63 recently, I encourage you to do it! David’s words are refreshingly realistic and filled with hope and God-centered joy in the midst of dryness and weariness. On the Desiring God website, staff writer Marshall Segal has written a helpful meditation upon this psalm entitled, “The Joy We Know Only in Suffering.” Make use of it as you walk through the wildernesses. God is present even there, and our longing for Him demonstrates how satisfying He is.

Thanks to ruling elder Adam Adcock for recommending this article.

What Is Missing In Much Of The Church Today?

The fruit of the Spirit is not love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. That’s right. This is not what the fruit of the Spirit is. There is something missing in this list. Did you catch it? It is often one of the most overlooked character qualities that we miss today in America and in the Church. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Gentleness is not something we typically gravitate towards in the American Church today. We often think that a church needs to be strong, loud, relevant, loving, wise, but not gentle.

Dane Ortlund has written a great piece on this theme of gentleness. Ortlund sees the undervaluing of gentleness, especially in men, as he writes, “As we picture what it means to man up and be a leader in the home and in the church, gentleness isn’t, for many of us, a defining element of that picture.” When we think of raising our boys into real men in an age that has redefined what manhood is, do we emphasize gentleness? Here is a larger excerpt from Ortlund’s article:

The way forward isn’t by choosing gentleness over against manliness, but by rightly defining manliness according to Jesus Christ. After all, if anyone was ever a man, a true man, he is. And while he could drive money changers from the temple, he also delighted to gather up into his arms the little children whom his disciples tried to send away (Matt. 19:13–15). He dealt gently with outsiders. He wept over the death of a friend (John 11:35). He welcomed healthy, manly physical affection with his dear disciples. The apostle John, for example, was (to translate the text literally) “reclining . . . at Jesus’s bosom” (John 13:23—the very relationship said to exist between Jesus and the Father earlier in John 1:18).

The supreme display of Jesus’s manhood, however, was in his sacrificial laying down of his life on behalf of his bride, the church. When the apostle Paul defines what it means to be a husband, he can speak simultaneously of the husband’s headship and also the husband’s sacrificial, Christlike laying down of his life on behalf of his bride (Eph. 5:25–33). Such sacrifice isn’t unmanly: it’s the supreme display of masculinity.

Any immature man can be a forceful, unheeding, unloving “leader.” Only a true man can be gentle.

This article is definitely worth a read. For the link, click here.

Technology, Idolatry, and Eternal Life

Paul is clear in Romans 1 - if we don’t worship the one true Creator God, we will worship the creation. One way that idolatry is manifested today is in the secular search for eternal life - not found through faith in Jesus Christ, but through faith in technology. Technology leaders in America are on the hunt for a cure for death, and they are willing to sacrifice huge amounts of money to find the secret elixer that will allow them to live forever, according to Jacob Banas, author of “Disrupting the Reaper: Tech Titans’ Quest for Immortality Rages Forward.” Banas references an article about Christianity in Silicon Valley that observes, “Traditional religion in the Bay Area is being replaced with another sort of faith, a belief in the power of technology and science to save humanity.” Banas comments, “Combine this new governing philosophy (what others have called a “religion of technology“) with leaders who are too young to find peace in the concept of death and who haven’t experienced the kinds of traumas that might inoculate them against some of that fear? You get a perfect storm of longevity obsession.”

God tells us that He has set eternity in the hearts of mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Made in his image, and created with a soul that will never die, Christians understand that the desire to live forever is not wrong. The problem is that because of Adam’s sin, death has entered the world. There is no escaping the grim reaper, for “it has been appointed for the die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Every single person will live forever, in a body - either in eternal joy on a new earth, or eternal misery in hell. What determines our destiny? The way we respond to Jesus Christ in this relatively short life. If you have friends that long to live forever, if you have friends that put their hope in technology to give them eternal life, point them to the only Savior from idolatry, the only giver of true life, Jesus the Son of God.

How Much Are Teens Bullied On Social Media?

There is no doubt that students are facing a world of trials in today’s world but one of the more common trials is the presence of bullying on social media. I have learned more and more about the presence of bullying on social media the more I have heard from our students. To be sure, we need to constantly ask our children about their presence on social media. Much of the social lives of youth today happen on the Internet which is hidden from plain sight of parents and mentors. The following is a brief excerpt of this article from The Atlantic:

No app is more integral to teens’ social lives than Instagram. While Millennials relied on Facebook to navigate high school and college, connect with friends, and express themselves online, Gen Z’s networks exist almost entirely on Instagram. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of teens use the platform, which now has more than 1 billion monthly users. Instagram allows teens to chat with people they know, meet new people, stay in touch with friends from camp or sports, and bond by sharing photos or having discussions.

But when those friendships go south, the app can become a portal of pain. According to a recent Pew survey, 59 percent of teens have been bullied online, and according to a 2017 survey conducted by Ditch the Label, a nonprofit anti-bullying group, more than one in five 12-to-20-year-olds experience bullying specifically on Instagram. “Instagram is a good place sometimes,” said Riley, a 14-year-old who, like most kids in this story, asked to be referred to by her first name only, “but there’s a lot of drama, bullying, and gossip to go along with it.”

Teenagers have always been cruel to one another. But Instagram provides a uniquely powerful set of tools to do so. The velocity and size of the distribution mechanism allow rude comments or harassing images to go viral within hours. Like Twitter, Instagram makes it easy to set up new, anonymous profiles, which can be used specifically for trolling. Most importantly, many interactions on the app are hidden from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers, many of whom don’t understand the platform’s intricacies.  

For the full article, click here.

New Resource: RYM Student Podcast

Our very own John Perritt has launched a new podcast for RYM aimed at students. Parents and mentors can use this resource to listen to with their kids, small groups can use this to launch into a good discussion, and students can listen to it in the car on the way to and from school. These short podcasts will answer such questions as:

  • Who is Jesus?

  • What has Jesus done for us?

  • What is my purpose in life?

  • What is mercy?

  • What is the Bible?

  • How do I know God?

For more information and to listen to the podcasts, click here.

Youth Culture (October 2018)

The following is a greater list of links to articles and blog posts about Youth Culture for the month of October. Each month, I do my best to send out an email to parents about what is going on in youth culture. In order for the emails to be shorter and more concise, I am adding a more exhaustive list to the blog so that they can be more accessible.

The following are articles that are concerned with the trends and opinions of youth culture at the moment. Not every article is a endorsement of opinion but rather there will be several statements in many that I disagree with. The point for this list is NOT to promote a certain opinion (which other blog posts are for) but rather to give you a feel for what is going on in our children’s lives and their culture. This is to promote further discussion in our church body about how the gospel can change our children and their culture.

"6 Ways to Ruin Your Children" by Jeff Robinson (TGC)

The following is a helpful article by pastor Jeff Robinson. Robinson is a Senior Editor for The Gospel Coalition and pastors Christ Fellowship Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Robinson gives us six ways in which we can radically shape our children for the better (or the worse). The following is an excerpt of the article:

Those early days of parenting often involved paralyzing paranoia. Every time his pacifier hit the ground, we’d boil it for 30 minutes. Every time anyone even looked sick at church, we’d keep him home. The first time he projectile-vomited, I was certain he was dying. There were so many questions: Would he ever get over his deep anxiety at the very sight of bathwater? Was that our fault? Would he ever potty train? Did he suffer from numerous permanent phobias? Would his Christology be orthodox?

If you’ve been a parent for very long, you know of what I speak. There’s a lingering fear, a virtual psychosis, that we will permanently ruin our four children. As a father for 16 years now, I’ve come to realize that a germy pacifier or an irrational fear of thunderstorms are not signs of acute parental failure.

But there are ways you can ruin your children—subtle ways that tend to show up over time. As a parent, I’d grade myself at about a C-minus. (My wife is definitely the valedictorian between the two of us.) So here are six ways—all of which I have been guilty—that you could ruin those who bear your last name, who will someday appear on your auto insurance policy.

For the full article and 6 ways, click here.

Some helpful articles from the Gospel Reformation Network

The Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) is a group within the PCA seeking to cultivate healthy Reformed churches within our denomination, and several articles they have posted lately do a great job of addressing some issues the PCA is engaging right now:

  • Dr. Jon Payne, the GRN Convener, has written a beautiful case for “Cultivating the Bonds of Peace within the PCA.” An excerpt: "When it comes to disagreeing with brothers over denominational issues, many of us can relate to Paul’s expression: “I do not do what I want, but often the very thing that I hate” (Rom. 7:15). We know deep down that we should engage in humble and open dialogue with the “other side”, and yet we largely dwell in the comfortable and affirming echo-chambers of our own tribe. We lob impulsive (often harsh) verbal grenades on social media. We convince ourselves that no benefit will come from meeting with one another. What’s the use? It’s just easier for everyone if we simply keep our distance. But God calls us to something different, doesn’t He? That’s why I was grateful to receive an invitation to meet for dinner in Nashville, Tennessee with several PCA teaching and ruling elders from differing perspectives within our denomination."

  • GRN Council Member David Strain provides a serious and tenderhearted pastoral letter to a fictitious congregation member, "Thomas," who is dealing with same-sex attraction. This piece will be immensely helpful to pastor and church member alike: "Dear Thomas, A Pastoral Approach to Dealing with Same Sex Attraction." 

  • GRN Council Member Rick Phillips on Revoice and the alleged "Idolatry" of the Nuclear Family

  • GRN Council Member Harry Reeder offering his analysis of the Revoice Conference in "Revoice or God's Voice?"

  • RTS Jackson Professor Dr. Guy Waters provides an insightful linguistic and exegetical analysis on key Greek terms used by the Apostle Paul in I Cor. 6:9. The meaning and definition of this verse and its vocabulary has been called into serious question in recent times. Dr. Waters offers a clear, yet compassionate, rejoinder in "Paul’s Understanding of Sexuality: μαλακοὶ and ἀρσενοκοῖται in 1 Cor 6:9."