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."

Quick Thoughts: Prayer

I am going to begin a series of short blog posts on various subjects of the Christian Life. My goal is to give you some short, concise answers to basic, and often forgotten, questions to these various subjects. Lord willing, this will help us come back to a basic understanding of why we do certain things, to what end, and simply how to do them. In this first post on “Quick Thoughts”, I want to address the topic of Prayer. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, here we go:

  1. What is prayer? Prayer is the breath of a soul that is alive to God; if we are alive unto we pray. Prayer is overflow of the heart to the God who cares for you. Prayer is the cry of a dependent child for a powerful and sufficient Father who desires to provide abundantly for His children. Prayer is when we bow, not simply in posture but in the heart, to the one true God who hears us when we call out to Him in the name of Jesus. Prayer is the burden that the Holy Spirit places in the Christian in order that they might live unto God. Simply put, prayer is voicing adoration, confession of sin, thanksgivings, and needs of all kind to the Almighty God. Prayer is not speaking to the open sky or talking to ourselves in hope that someone somewhere with some omnipotence might hear us. Prayer is addressing God in faith that He hears, responds, and gives us what we need. Prayer is the response of the heart of faith to the promises given to us in Christ. Prayer happens after we read the Scriptures. It is when we read the Word of God that we then respond to Him. True prayer happens after reading the Word. John 15:7 says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Matthew 6:6 tells us, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Again we see in Luke 11:9, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

  2. Why pray? Prayer is the heart of dependence on God. We see the curse of sin manifest itself in our pursuit for independence. In our pursuit of independence, we are like a flower trying to live without roots. We are like a newborn baby refusing her mother. We pray when we realize that we need help. God created man in order to live in dependence upon Him and this dependence was part of what was good in the Garden of Eden when there was no sin. Prayer brings us back to who we were meant to be—creatures living in dependence upon their Creator. Prayer brings joy to the saddened soul. Prayer brings hope in the face of despair. Prayer brings intimacy when loneliness prevails in the world. Why pray? Because in prayer we draw near to God. Maybe the question could be restated this way: Why draw near to God? Prayer, at its core, is the sinner drawing near to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit with the confidence that this Triune God will satisfy my deepest longings. Prayer is not calling out to a genie in order to be satisfied merely in what he gives me. The goal of prayer is to have God Himself as my chief joy. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 also says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

  3. To whom do we pray? Primarily, the model that Jesus gives us is to pray to the Father but certainly the entire Trinity is always involved. Matthew 6:9 begins, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’” Jesus came to reveal the Father to us and to bring us to the Father by His person and work. We certainly pray, and should pray, to Jesus Himself and to the Holy Spirit. All persons of the Trinity are equal yet distinct—nevertheless, they are One God, not three. It is a helpful reminder that Jesus tells us to primarily address the person of the Father.

  4. In what manner should we pray? We should pray with reverence and awe. Let us beware of beginning prayer flippantly with, “Hey God!” Let us also, even, think more of beginning prayer more so with the thought of our Father being Holy. It is the knowledge that we have of God that drives how we pray. Let us not forget that our God is a consuming fire and that He is Holy, Holy, Holy. If the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the LORD (Prov 1:7) then let us not abandon the beginning of knowledge with that activity which we should attend to most in the Christian life. We must have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace but that throne of grace never extinguishes the attribute of God’s Holiness. The throne of grace should give the weakest child boldness and joy to approach his heavenly Father in prayer but that child must still remember that God is God. Confidence in Christ and Fear of the LORD are not butting heads in prayer like two brothers fighting over the last chocolate chip cookie. Neither one is competing against the other but rather they work together like how salt can enhance the taste of the sugar on a chocolate chip cookie (can you tell what I’m craving for a snack right now?). Prayer should be in dependent fear and love for God. Whenever God showed people His glory in a more manifest way they fell down. Even when Peter recognized who Jesus was in the boat he fell down and asked to be away from His presence. Yes, they loved God and God loved them but this love of God is so holy that it should bring us redeemed sinners to our knees in humility and fear of the heart. God is the One who runs towards us and we should run towards Him but this never negates His Holiness and Majesty.

  5. What should we pray for? Let us take an inventory of our prayers individually and corporately. What percentage of our prayer requests primarily focus on the bodily and physical needs and how much focus on the needs of the soul? To be clear, we are made up of body AND soul. The needs of the body are real and constant. We must pray for the physical needs around us but we must not ONLY pray for the physical needs around us. It does not make someone “extra spiritual” if they never pray for physical needs. Rather, one might question that person’s understanding of the image of God. Nevertheless, we can say the same for those who neglect the matters of the soul.

    When we have a prayer meeting, how often do we pray for the following: conversion, revival, growth in holiness, richer devotional lives, patience, love for others, understanding of the Scriptures, more of a desire to pray, zeal for evangelism, protection against false teachers, more earnestness to repent of the idols of the heart? Are we so earthly minded that we totally neglect the primary need for sinners to have faith and repentance? Our prayer requests, as an individual and as a congregation, will reflect the priorities of our hearts. Do we only pray for the physical because we want life to be comfortable? Brothers and sisters, we must pray for the things that concern the body but never at the expense of praying for souls to be saved from the eternal wrath of God, for exponential growth in holiness amidst an evil age, greater fruit of the Holy Spirit, richer community in the church, and certainly (although one of the most neglected) the need for true God-centered revival. We must pray for the preaching of the Word as much as we pray for safe travels. We must pray for the lost in our neighborhoods as much as we pray for the healing of the body. We must pray for endurance amidst persecution as much as we pray for good grades, politics, injuries, upcoming tests and meetings, healthy children, and the other often brought up items (which are NEVER too small to pray for).

    Please hear me, our lack of praying for the small things shows our misunderstanding of a God so sovereign and caring that He notices the way ants work and lilies grow. We must also understand that our lack of praying for the Holy Spirit to powerfully attend the preaching of the Word every week shows our great misunderstanding that our greatest need is to hear the words of the gospel of God by the power of the Spirit and that if we do not hear then it matters not if we gain the entire world because we will lose our soul. Pray for all things, body and soul (for both are important), but what a grave danger we fall into when we never pray for the soul.

  6. When should we pray? Maybe a better question could be: When can we pray? We can pray at all times. Paul says, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). We can pray before we eat and we can pray before surgery. We can pray in the middle of having a tough conversation with someone and we can pray while putting our children to bed. We can pray in business meetings and we can pray during a commercial break. We can and should pray at all times for that is what a praying life is. It is not literally only praying at all times but rather it is having a life of communication with God throughout the day. We should pray much spontaneously (for God does hear and loves these prayers) but we should never neglect the practice of “still” prayer. What I mean is that we must set aside some times in order to be still and know that the LORD is God. In our busy times, this might be the most neglected and the most needed spiritual discipline. We should put things to rest, turn over our phones and silence them, gather our thoughts and lift up our concerns to God. Leave the busyness of life for a period of time and come before the LORD to find rest. Find this time in the morning before the kids get up, first thing when you walk in the office, on your walks, when you put the kids down for a nap, before bed, or during lunch (don’t forget that it was in 19th Century that New York had a true Spirit-sent revival all surrounding the lunch time prayer meeting). You will not find time unless you make time. If prayer is the breathing of the soul that is alive unto God then prayerlessness is the evidence of the soul that wants to commit spiritual suicide or the evidence of the soul that is not alive in the first place. Let us not fool ourselves here: Christians pray. Some pray more than others and that makes no one more special and loved by God more than others. Beware: those who think that prayer earns their righteousness before God are in danger for their soul. But let us not fool ourselves, especially in our Southern context, that we can believe the gospel and not pray. Indeed, what is the first movement of the redeemed sinner towards God but that of prayer? The Spirit produces living water in the soul of the man or woman, and church, that is alive unto God. Water that flows into any pipe system must find its way out or the pipes will burst. If there is not water exiting the pipes and no bursting of the pipes then there is no flowing water.

  7. What are some practical ways to develop a life of prayer? This could be an endless list but maybe some of these suggestions will help or spur on some thoughts to other ideas:

    1. During devotions, prayer before starting and pray after finishing.

    2. Take a car ride a day to turn off the radio in order to pray.

    3. Pause to pray between meetings, classes, assignments, chores.

    4. Designate a prayer “station” or a prayer “closet” so that there can be a regular place in which you pause to only pray.

    5. Set your alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier. As you wait for the coffee to finish brewing, open your Bible and pray a certain Psalm.

    6. Don’t neglect praying before meals. Let it remind you and those around you that greater tastes and satisfactions are in the Lord.

    7. Pray with your spouse and/or children before bed.

    8. Read good books on prayer. Here are some very helpful ones:

      1. Tim Keller “Prayer”

      2. David Mathis “Habits of Grace”

      3. John Bunyan “Prayer”

      4. Michael Reeves “Enjoy your prayer life”

      5. Andrew Murray “With Christ in the School of Prayer”

      6. Banner of Truth “Valley of Vision”

    9. Keep a list on your phone or notebook of things to pray for.

    10. Keep a journal that records the answers to prayer.

    11. Read prayers (such as Valley of Vision)

    12. Sing prayers. Remember, the greatest hymns were often first prayers.

    13. Put reminders on your phone or calendar. Schedule your prayer time.

    14. Pick a prayer partner.

    15. Attend evening worship where we pray as a congregation after voicing the needs around us.

    16. Start a prayer meeting (not a prayer request meeting or a Bible study about prayer where you only briefly pray at the end) where you actually spend the majority of the time praying.

    17. Remember, there are no prayer professionals. This often hinders people from praying.

    18. The Spirit is wise enough to sort out your jumbled thoughts so do not be afraid to pray for things as they come to mind.

    19. Remind yourself of the promises of God—primarily the promise that He hears you.

    20. Read good stories and books on revival. Revival is never separated from prayer.

How Porn Affects Missions

As a church that sends, supports, and prays for several missionaries, it is worth asking the following: Does pornography affect the mission field? Is the widespread use of pornography “sidelining” potential missionaries (and even local missions in our neighborhood)? Greg Handley, church planter and writer for the International Mission Board, seeks to address this question in his article. The following is an excerpt:

I know the statistics point to how pornography isn’t merely a male problem. I understand, but I also have worked among young men enough to know this problem has reached epidemic proportions. Years ago, John Piper coined that paradigm-shifting statement about missions in Let the Nations Be Glad: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Among young, Christian men who don’t show concern for the nations, I’ve come to wonder if it could be said that porn lurks where missions doesn’t.

Here is my plea to porn-strugglers: not merely for your sake, for their sake—for the unreached nations of the world—get help. Pornography sidelines you when the nations need you. I want to help you realize the soul-conditioning effect of pornography in a way you may not have seen it before, particularly as it relates to missions. My aim is for this brief article to be a healing wound that sets a new trajectory in your pursuit of purity.

For the rest of the short article, click here.

Are Selfies Really Harmful?

A fellow youth worker in Mississippi sent me this article earlier this week about selfies. Naturally, I had my gracious wife read me "the important parts" so that I could digest it on my own in quicker time. Even from her brief skims and my bad listening, this was a confirmation of what we already knew. 

The following is a brief part of the conclusion to the study about selfie and young women. "This is the first study to show experimentally that selfie posting on social media is harmful in terms of young women’s mood and self-image. Being able to retouch or modify their photo did not result in women feeling better about themselves after posting a selfie to social media. Future research should look at the longer-term effects of posting photos of oneself on social media, which is an increasingly common aspect of contemporary media use."

Read the about the study here. Warning: this is not for the weary readers (aka it's long but you can skim it for the "good stuff").

Reflections on the Psalms

In preparation for our recent concert on the Psalms, I asked the members of the choir to write down which Psalm is their favorite and why. Their comments were so encouraging that I thought you all would like the opportunity to read some of them.  The choir as a whole was blessed in our preparation for the concert as we sang the words of Psalms 98, 121, 23, 130, 51and 84 over and over again each week. Familiarity brought warmth and life to the words as they increasingly became a part of us.  We encountered the joy of praising the Lord with His own words, the deep wells of lament, the brokenness of repentance, and we were renewed in our confidence in the Lord of Hosts, our Shepherd, our Refuge, our Helper and Keeper. Here are some thoughts on particular Psalms.  Which Psalm is your favorite?                                        

Psalm 1
Debbie Barnes

Psalm 1 has probably been my favorite psalm since college.  I have enjoyed singing it in church, over the years, as the familiar words are always new and refreshing to me. In the Psalm, the writer contrasts the righteous and the wicked.  He gives us two vivid examples to ponder.  I was reminded of these verses recently when we were in the country.  Standing in a field, I plucked a head of wheat to see what the seeds looked like. No sooner than I had it in my hand, the chaff started blowing in all directions.   Immediately, I thought of this verse – “But they (the wicked) are like chaff which the wind blows away”. (v.4)  Then, as I looked at the trees around me, I was reminded of this verse: “He (the righteous) will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (V.3) In summary, “The way of the wicked will perish,” (v.6), “But blessed is the man whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (v. 1&2) In Neil’s wedding band are inscribed in two words – Psalm One.

Psalm 51
Christy Walker

Psalm 51 has always been special to me.  Many of us know the story of David and Bathsheba and how God sent Nathan to bring David to repentance.  Well, I have my own “Nathan” in my life.  My sophomore year at MSU, I was going through some very difficult times, slipping into depression and wanting to control areas that I couldn’t control.  That spring, I sat down in my new history class and recognized a girl that had also been in my previous semester’s class.  One day this girl said, “I think you live by me.”  You may be thinking that this would be common on a university campus.  However, no one could see my apartment from the road.  You literally had to know that the apartment existed to say you knew where I lived.  What evolved from that statement was a friendship.  What came from that friendship was an invitation to RUF where I heard the Gospel for the first time.  I had “graced” the pews of a church my entire life (Free Will Baptist) but I didn’t know Christ.  I don’t know how long after I started attending RUF that I had the “infamous” Brian Habig (RUF campus minister) talk.  He had a gift for really getting to the heart of the issue.  I remember sitting in the middle of the university bakery with tears streaming down my face. There I realized that I didn’t need the world or society to define who I was or where my hope/freedom should be; only through Christ could I find true freedom and security.  This was the turning point in my life. Today, as I reflect, I am amazed to think about how our Sovereign God literally placed Amy in two of my classes at such a precise moment in my life, how I just “happened” to start renting an apartment from the Eshee family, and how Amy literally lived right around the corner from me. All these details are not by chance.  I also can’t help but be in awe that when so many in my family are unbelievers, God chose me!!!!  Amy is my “Nathan” and I pray that one day I may be someone else’s “Nathan.”

Psalm 88
Mary Hope Bryant

Psalm 88 is an unusual “favorite psalm” because it is kind of depressing, but that is why I love it. The speaker, though he is a believer, feels lonely, abandoned by his friends, guilty, overwhelmed, and even assaulted by God. He sees no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope to ease his suffering. In fact, the psalm ends by saying, “You (God) have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; darkness is my only companion.” He knows God is gracious, wonderful, wise, etc. He is aware of the fact that God is a source of comfort and mercy to the troubled. But his experience is the opposite. And yet - God could put that believer’s experience in Scripture because, despite what the speaker felt at that moment (however long that moment was), God had guaranteed hope for him in Jesus Christ. I am thankful for this honest, despairing believer’s song, because I have had periods in my life in which I was not cognizant of God’s grace and care, and in which I felt incapable of escaping my own sin. This psalm reassures me that those experiences do not change God’s great love for me or his salvation of my soul. Instead, in ways beyond my understanding, they are actually part of his gracious provision, and no amount of weakness on my part can change the fact that he loves me and has redeemed my soul for his eternal kingdom.

 Psalm 23
Jackie Shelt

Many entire books have been written about the beauty and truth of Psalm 23 so speaking about it in 2-3 minutes is like having a quarter of one of those little Sam's quiches and calling it an appetizer.  But here is a taste for you to meditate on and consider later.  Psalm 23 is my favorite Psalm not just because it is true, beautiful, and comforting.  It is all those things. But even more because in six short and beautifully crafted verses it encompasses the entire gospel and the entire Christian life.  It speaks of the shepherd meeting my deepest need:  soul restoration--which Christ purchased for me by walking through the Valley of the Shadow of death.  It speaks of the shepherd's work in my sanctification, leading me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of his great name and glory.  It speaks of the glorious ending--which is the real beginning--dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.  Consider too the position and presence of our good shepherd, Immanuel:  leading us in paths of righteousness, with us in the Valley of the Shadow, pursuing us with his goodness and mercy, and ultimately allowing us redeemed sinners to sit at his victorious banquet table in the presence of His and our enemies, declaring for all eternity:  "She's with me."   In my own wobbly and storm-tossed journey to the Celestial City, God has used these magnificent words which signify wonderful solid realities to lead, keep, pursue, strengthen, comfort, discipline, and rescue me.  

John Calvin on the Beauty and Advantages of the Psalms

We are beginning a new Sunday evening sermon series on some selected Psalms this coming Lord's Day. In my preparation this week for the introductory sermon, I read again John Calvin's preface to his commentary on the Psalms. I encourage you to read it for yourself, so that you might be spurred on to spend more time in God's hymnal:

The varied and resplendent riches which are contained in this treasure it is no easy matter to express in words; so much so, that I well know that whatever I shall be able to say will be far from approaching the excellence of the subject. But as it is better to give my readers some taste, however small, of the wonderful advantages they will derive from the study of this book, than to be entirely silent on the point, I may be permitted briefly to advert to a matter, the greatness of which does not admit of being fully unfolded.

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, "An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;" for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us. But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and of the man vices with which we abound, may remain concealed. It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy. In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine.

Genuine and earnest prayer proceeds first from a sense of our need, and next, from faith in the promises of God. It is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure. In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book. And not only are the promises of God presented to us in it, but oftentimes there is exhibited to us one standing, as it were, amidst the invitations of God on the one hand, and the impediments of the flesh on the other, girding and preparing himself for prayer: thus teaching us, if at any time we are agitated with a variety of doubts, to resist and fight against them, until the soul, freed and disentangled from all these impediments, rise up to God; and not only so, but even when in the midst of doubts, fears, and apprehensions, let us put forth our efforts in prayer, until we experience some consolation which may calm and bring contentment to our minds. Although distrust may shut the gate against our prayers, yet we must not allow ourselves to give way, whenever our hearts waver or are agitated with inquietude, but must persevere until faith finally come forth victorious from these conflicts.

In many places we may perceive the exercise of the servants of God in prayer so fluctuating, that they are almost overwhelmed by the alternate hope of success and apprehension of failure, and gain the prize only by strenuous exertions. We see on the one hand, the flesh manifesting its infirmity; and on the other, faith putting forth its power; and if it is not so valiant and courageous as might be desired, it is at least prepared to fight until by degrees it acquire perfect strength. But as those things which serve to teach us the true method of praying aright will be found scattered through the whole of this Commentary, I will not now stop to treat of topics which it will be necessary afterwards to repeat, nor detain my readers from proceeding to the work itself. Only it appeared to me to be requisite to show in passing, that this book makes known to us this privilege, which is desirable above all others - that not only is there opened up to us familiar access to God, but also that we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities, which we would be ashamed to confess before men.

Besides, there is also here prescribed to us an infallible rule for directing us with respect to the right manner of offering to God the sacrifice of praise, which he declares to be most precious in his sight, and of the sweetest odor. There is no other book in which there is to be found more express and magnificent commendations, both of the unparalleled liberality of God towards his Church, and of all his works; there is no other book in which there is recorded so many deliverances, nor one in which the evidences and experiences of the father providence and solicitude which God exercises towards us, are celebrated with such splendor of diction, and yet with the strictest adherence to truth; in short, there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise.

Moreover, although the Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our life to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness, yet they will principally teach and train us to bear the cross; and the bearing of the cross is a genuine proof of our obedience, since by doing this, we renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving him to govern us, and to dispose of our life according to his will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from him. In one word, not only will we here find general commendations of the goodness of God, which may teach men to repose themselves in him alone, and to seek all their happiness solely in him; and which are intended to teach true believers with their whole hearts confidently to look to him for help in all their necessities; but we will also find that the free remission of sins, which alone reconciles God towards us, and procures for us settled peace with him, is so set forth and magnified, as that here there is nothing wanting which relates to the knowledge of eternal salvation.