This morning I was doing research on my sermon, which has to do with prayer. I read this from J.C. Ryle's commentary on Luke 16:
Our words may be feeble and ill chosen, and our language broken and ungrammatical, and unworthy to e written down. But if the heart e right, it matters not. He that sits in heaven can spell out the meaning of every petition sent up in the name of Jesus, and can make the asker know and feel that he receives.
These words of Ryle remind me of when a toddler tries to communicate. When they are less than a year and starting to babble, their words cannot always be deciphered. But parents and siblings are able to understand what they are saying.
One of my children would sometimes ask for a "wabberbobble." To anyone else the word was just gibberish and completely indecipherable. But everyone in the family knew she wanted a drink from her "water bottle."
In the same way, when we offer up our prayers, they can sometimes be full of pain and without a semblance of proper form. Sometimes prayer can be a little scatterbrained and be as disheveled as our poor hearts are. In the words of Ryle, they can be ill chosen and brought forth with broken language.
Nevertheless, being offered to the Father through Christ, every word is understood with perfect clarity. Our Lord hears and understands the cries of his people. He acts to answer the one who sets his poor petition before Him.
This past week Ashland Mayor Matt Miller presented a "State of the City" address (see video below, starting at approx. the 16 min mark). Mr. Miller gave a glowing report of the city's current status and expressed, in so many words, that our town is on the verge of significant growth.
He mentioned the prospects of several new economic developments. Businesses in Ashland are looking to expand their markets and increase their employee base. Charles River expects to add a new facility and around 100 new jobs. Comtext projects to grow by at least another 50 jobs. These are just a few of the items mentioned by Mr. Miller.
Along with potential business ventures, Miller also reported that the housing market in Ashland will to undergo a significant expansion. This includes multiple new apartment complexes and home developments.
The growth in Ashland certainly can be verified by a drive through town. A few years ago there were a significant amount of empty buildings. These are few and far between now.
Houses also seem to be selling at an incredible rate around town. I have had several friends say they've had a hard time finding a place because the houses are selling so fast.
These developments do incline one to think about how best to move forward in ministry. In a town that is experiencing growth and may be on the verge of significant growth, one needs to ask how a church can position itself for proclaiming the gospel and experiencing similar growth? These are the questions I find myself submitting to the Lord during times of prayer.
Interestingly, the original Hopewell Church (the first church planted in Ashland 200 years ago) was in a similar situation. The town was starting to blossom and new businesses were starting to pop up. With it there was a growth of ministry (and subsequent challenges).
Moving forward this question will be something I definitely contemplate regularly. It is still my desire to see revival, reformation, and renewal while promoting the doctrines of the Reformation in our area. A strong Reformed witness in town is still very much needed.
Hopewell has certainly begun to blossom and see some progress that parallels the growth we are seeing in Ashland. Four new families have started attending in the last several months. We are also glad to be seeing three weddings occuring in the upcoming year.
Nevertheless, I want to serve the Lord's purposes in the town as it evolves into the next decade. There will no doubt be new opportunities to do evangelism and discipleship among people moving to the area.
Are you looking to connect with other Reformed people in the Ashland area? Check out Hopewell Church and/or join our facebook group.
When a Jehovah's Witness comes knocking at your door, how do you engage them with the gospel? There is a rather easy way to do this. All it takes is a little understanding of their belief system.
You've seen the TV shows where the villain will attack the hero with a block of wood. It looks so threatening. But then the hero takes the 2x4 out of his hands and bonks his foe in the head with it.
That's really all you have to do with the Jehovah's Witness. Their own beliefs are your greatest weapon. You don't have to be afraid because you can use their folly against them.
What do JW's believe?
Jehovah's Witness believe that God and Jesus are two different spirit entities. Jehovah God is the highest being and Jesus is his firstborn son. To put it another way, Jesus is divine in essence, but he is not God. God is the monarch, and Jesus the first thing God created.
Even though Jesus is not God, the Jehovah's Witness claim that he is the "exact representation of his [i.e. God's] very being" (Heb. 1:3). What's more, they would state that in Jesus "all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily" (Col. 2:9).
Okay, cool. Let's roll with that. Let's take the board out of their hands and begin to clank them with it.
We only need to ask, "What kind of essence does God have?" Once we start poking around Jehovah God's nature, we will find that Jesus is not the exact representation of God nor does the fullness of deity dwell in him.
God is Unchangeable
If you ask a Jehovah's Witness if Jehovah God is unchangeable, he will say yes. They may even cite a Scripture, such as...
Herein we find a contradiction. Jesus was created, which means he changed. He once was not alive, but he underwent a change to become alive.
God is Eternal
If you ask a Jehovah's Witness if Jehovah God is eternal, they will say yes. They may cite a Bible passage, such as...
Again, Jesus cannot be the exact representation of God nor have the fullness of the deity dwell in him. For Jesus is not eternal, being that he at one time was created.
God is Self-sufficient
God is completely complete. We call this his independence or self-sufficiency. What we mean is that the Lord does not depend upon anything else for life (Acts 17:25). He created everything and is independent from all created things.
Smack! Take that board and give them a good wallup: If Jesus is a created being, he is completely dependent on another for his life.
God is Sovereign & Possesses All Power in Himself.
A God who is a king is one who has absolute sovereignty and power. That means he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He is not limited by any other creature, for all power is in and of himself.
But, according to the JW's, Jesus' does not have absolute sovereignty. As a created being, his power is dependent upon Jehovah God. Moreover, he cannot do whatever he wants. His will is subject to a will that is higher than his.
God is All Glorious
A Jehovah Witness will likely admit that Jehovah God is full of glory. They will likely say that Jesus is full of glory too. But Scripture clearly teaches, "I am Jehovah. That is my name; I give my glory to no one else." Isaiah 42:8
Obviously, if this is true, God could not share his glory with Jesus. But, if Jesus does not have the exact same glory, he is not the exact representation; neither or does all the fullness of the deity dwell in him.
Here's a real kicker: Jesus even says that he had glory with the Father before the world began. Jesus said, "Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." Jn. 17:4.
That's like a double crack in the head. Yikes!
THE WORD WAS A GOD?
Have you had an encounter with a JW and been given the runaround over John 1:1. The text says,
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word with God and the Word was God."
This passage is a clear proof that Jesus was one with God, very God of very God. But the JW will argue 'til they're blue in the face saying that it really is supposed to be translated like this...
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god."
Don't let that bother you. You don't have to get into the finer points of the Greek language. You can use that against them! Turn them to Isaiah 45:5 and trap them in their own words. Isaiah announces with the highest bit of prophetical clarity,
"I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no God."
Joel Beeke addresses the topic of the 4th commandment and Sabbath observance in his book Puritan Reformed Spirituality. The discussion comes up under the heading of the "third use of the law" (also called the "didactic use of the law"), which reminds us that the law is to be a guide for Christian living.
I provide a few of the grand quotes from the book below. There are a number of thought provoking words that can be gleaned from this chapter. But I'd like to simply offer a word about how a high view of the Lord's Day is good for the soul.
The principle of setting one day aside for God recenters a person. It forces you to live your life in such a way that it revolves around the Lord, and not your sports, work, kids, or personal inclinations. Taking the Sabbath seriously means putting life in order: I have six days to do everything I need and want; I have one day to dedicate myself and my family to God.
The fourth commandment, then, serves as a time out. It slows you down so that you are not racing here and there, running from this or that activity, and pushing your mind/body with more labor or unnecessary activity.
In sum, there is a peace that it naturally (and supernaturally) affords. When you make it your aim to truly set apart (i.e. to make holy) Sunday to the Lord, you reap a benefit of soundness of mind, body, and soul.
Indeed, the whole family is unified and given some degree of peace as each person is brought together and forced to lay aside their typical pursuits that take them in all the different directions which they normally go.
Those who observe the fourth commandment no doubt find that it fulfills the call of Christ which says, "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest."
The following are a few choice quotes from this section of Beeke's book:
"The forces of secularization and the rise of the leisure culture, obsessed with pursuing recreations of all kinds, have extinguished concern for Sabbath observance in the general population."
"Men are destroying themselves because they cannot say no, whether at work or at play. Great spiritual blessings are promised to those who subject themselves to the self-denying discipline of Sabbath observance."
On Hebrews 4.9, which says, "There remains therefore a rest for the people of God," Beeke notes that "because the word he uses for 'rest' is sabbatismos, or 'a keeping of sabbath,' the obligation to observe a weekly Sabbath continues under the gospel."
"Sabbath-keeping became a mark of Christian discipleship in the age of the martyrs, as Maurice Roberts relates: 'One question put to the martyrs before they were put to death was: "Dominicum servasti?" (Do you keep the Lord's Day?).'"
Christ's conflict with the Pharisees must be viewed therefore as a campaign not to destroy but rather to reclaim and restore the Biblical institution of the Sabbath."
"We must engage in those activities which obtain, increase, and express knowledge of the holiness of God, and our own holiness in Christ. [For, as Scripture says,] Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."
Speaking on Isaiah 58:13-14 Beeke says, "Here the prophet extends the ban on engaging in labor to include the pursuit of our personal recreations and leisure-time activities. Even the words we speak are to be regulated by the commandment."
Employers have the unique opportunity to use their position in the world to influence people for the gospel. It doesn't just have to be limited to playing Christian radio in the background. There are many ways that a company can create an atmosphere where Christ is known and proclaimed.
Here are a few suggestions...
1. Share your company's mission, goals, and philosophy of business.
As a Christian, your business isn't about making profits and bringing home a load of cash. A man of God knows that his calling in life is to serve God and his neighbor. His vocation is merely an extension of that.
So be open about it and let people know it. Hold meetings and gather your employees to go over what you're ultimate reasons are for existing. Share with them how God is saved you and how you want this business to be done for him and his glory. Have handouts that state that your mission is to "Faithfully serve the Savior of men, Jesus Christ, by providing great widgets and customer service."
You don't have to be long or "preachy" in your presentations. Lucid brevity can be quite powerful. You'll also have numerous opportunities if you take the long term approach.
All in all, you want people in your company to be on board with your mission anyway. So why not use this opportunity as a public witness?
2. Meet with your employees individually & build a relationship with them.
Yes, you are a busy. You have work to do too, we understand. But make efforts to connect with someone each week. Take them to lunch or have them into your office for a quick chat.
During that time, you can encourage them and express your gratitude for having them. Most importantly, ask how they are doing, see if there's any needs that they have, and ask how you can be praying for them. And, of course, take a second to pray for them right there.
You will be showing real care for them and, when they do have problems, they may seek you out. This can lead to greater opportunities to share the truth of Christ with them.
3. Bring your pastor in and introduce him to your employees
As an entrepreneur you know the power of networking. As a pastor, I can say that it's difficult to get out and meet new people. Evangelism is tough because I'm typically interacting with Christians. The good news is that Christian businessmen can help build bridges between their employees and their church by having their pastor in from time to time.
Introduce your pastor at a company meeting. Let him come to the company picnic. Every quarter or so, have him walk with you through the company and have a quick chat with your labor force. Connect him individually with those who are under your leadership.
If you know that one certain person is having some problems (maybe in their marriage, children), tell them that your pastor can be of help. Have your pastor pray for them right there on the floor of the shop. Let them feel that they have a network of care and counsel at their disposal.
4. Provide Biblical counseling
Want to have your employees get over their drug addiction? Why not offer them meetings with a biblical counselor? Are they consistently late? They likely have issues/habits with which a biblical counselor could help.
Keep in mind too that Biblical counselors have as their first goal sharing the gospel with their counselees. If they are unbelievers, then the counselor will spend a great deal of time pointing out that this is their greatest need (and that their current problem is due to their failure to love and honor God).
If there are fees, perhaps you can cover them. You may even be able to provide incentives for them to meet with those counselors too. The key is connecting your workforce with godly advisors.
5. Hold seminars and studies.
Some companies have safety meetings, health seminars, or conferences on planning for retirement. Similar information could be given for parenting, marriage, addiction, or money management.
All you need to do is consider the needs of your laborers. Maybe a 3 week study on depression would help several in your midst. Or how about some classes on anger?
If your company isn't big enough to hold a seminar, no sweat. Let it be a small group Bible study. Or, if you really want to go all out, coordinate it with other businesses, involve churches, or invite the wider community. It could even be a function put on by your church, but held at your business location.
6. Take employees to Christian business functions
Does your town have a Christian business leader group that meets for prayer or Bible study? Ask one of your workers to attend with you. Doing this will give them a chance to hear God's word or see the love and care Christians have.
While at these meetings introduce your employees to the other members of the group. You can help them make good contact with the other mature men and women who attend. So, not only can they hear the message and witness the testimonies, they can begin to make meaningful connections with other solid Christian people.
These are just a few effective ways to use your business and position as a means of introducing your personnel to Christ. The thing to remember is that God has placed you in a position of authority and that gives you special opportunities as a leader.
Are there things that you've done that have influenced the workforce for the Lord? What have you done to disciple employees or connect your company to the church? Post your ideas below!
Who made you?
A. God made me
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
You may take your blocks and stack them up to make a tall tower. You may draw a picture with your markers and put it on your refrigerator door. These are your creations and they are wonderful things.
But who made you? God did! You are one of his wonderful creations. Before the beginning of time, God planned to create you and all your family. Then, at just the right time, he made you. He made your body and gave you a soul that will live forever. Deep within your mommy’s tummy he fashioned you together and made you into the person you are today.
I hope this catechism question helps you see how special you are! For the Lord didn’t make just anyone, he made you. He took special care to make you just the way you are. What’s more, there’s no one in the world like you. You are God’s unique creation. That makes you very special! Whenever you get sad, just remember this happy thought: God made me!
Also remember that you belong to God. The tower you built with your blocks is yours. So is the picture you drew. You created it, and it belongs to you.
In the same way, you belong to God. You are his special treasure. Don’t ever forget that he is your creator God, and you are his special creation.
Things to discuss
What are things that are unique about you? (Hint: personality traits, physical characteristics, certain looks you make or talents you have, clothes you wear, styles, games you like, etc.)
Things to do
With an ink pad or marker, color your children’s fingers. Have them put their finger prints on a sheet of paper. Talk about how are they different and how are they the same. Explain how God made each person’s print unique.
Extra: Make each print into the head of a stick figure. Decorate it with your child’s specific features, i.e. hair, ears, eyes, etc.
Things to sing
God made me; God made me
In my Bible book it says that God made me.
-Cedermont Kids, Toddler Tunes
The title says it all. You can read the blogs and buy the latest books, but leadership does not consist of any one particular gimmick or trick. It's about the multifaceted gem we commonly call character.
Some will say that leadership is about the ability to motivate or communicate. These are certainly elements of a good leader, but at their base these are items which pertain to one's behavior.
A good leader communicates well because he recognizes that it is a form of love towards his neighbor. He wants those on his team to thrive and be successful, so he is considerate of what things they need to know. He speaks clearly and calmly because it rises out of righteousness.
He is a motivator because he expresses gratitude, humility, and loyalty. People will listen because they know he will not cheat them, burn them, or lead them somewhere he himself will not go.
Leadership is about service, sacrifice, and wisdom. These are qualities that belong to Christ, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep (i.e. the leader, par excellence).
To be sure, some people will not follow leaders, but leaders will lead nonetheless. That's because they are men of principle, not popularity. People will hate certain leaders. While that may be grieved, it will not dissuade a good leader from his work. For good leaders are seeking righteousness and not man's approval.
Leaders build good teams because leaders understand love and relationships. Leaders get things done because they understand duty, diligence, and dignity. Leaders will reflect, rethink, and redo because they believe in the moral underpinnings of what they have before them.
To be sure, leaders make mistakes too. They fail and they offend, but they know the importance of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This is why I have often said that leaders lead even in their errors. They will lead by means of confessing their mistake and their attempts to correct it.
Whence comes this kind of leadership? It is born out of humility, honor, and the commitment to doing what is right.
A man who breaks his commitments, lies, cheats, steals will never be a leader. Someone who cuts corners or puts in a halfsy job will not be promoted. A gossip will be abandoned, and those who seek self promotion will have trouble keeping people around him.
But a man of integrity, he will move up. People will rally behind him. Hearts will become attached to the one whose heart is true.
Thus, let it be heard: Leadership isn't about being witty, it is about wisdom. It is not about charisma; it is about character. Those who will be leaders will be those who love what is pure and do what is right.
A few months ago I sat with two men and discussed the ministry over lunch. One was a young pastor, having been ordained and in the ministry for a short time. The other was his intern; a young fellow who was assisting and beginning his preparations for the ministry.
The pastor asked me what advice I would give his intern as he prepares for the ministry. I responded by saying, "If you can do anything else, do it."
This answer encapsulated two things. First, it has in focus the fact that a man must be impelled to preach and pastor. That is to say, he must have that drive that Jeremiah had wherein he had a fire in his bones that could not be put out. It is the heart of the Apostle Paul who was compelled to preach and said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel."
In sum, I mean that there is nothing else he can do. Sales will not fit him. Mechanics is not satisfying, however noble that calling may be for others. There is simply a compulsion that rages within him to the exclusion of everything else.
Secondly, when I say "If you can do anything else, do it," I express something of the pain of the pastorate. Church leadership is difficult and fraught with all kinds of sorrow. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet for good reason. You cannot downgrade in any way the hardships Paul faced either.
The pastorate comes with tears. Over the years I have lost several of my best friends. They were not only parishioners for whom I prayed and labored, neither were they simply endeared colleagues and co-laborers. They were people with whom I spent absurd amounts of time and had a bosom bond. We shared our lives and laughed together. Then, in almost an instant, they were against me and gone.
Such loss was worse than a friend dying because they were very much alive. They were alienated not by death, but by hatred and faction. I readily confess that it would be better to have lost them to death, because we could part in peace and a spirit of unity. But the losses I experienced were deeper and harder.
To be sure, such can be the lot of any Christian. This is not merely indicative of leadership, but it is expressive of it. Leaders will be called to "endure hardship." There is a reason why Paul tells Timothy to be a good soldier. The metaphor of being at war and bombarded with hostility is a threat that should not be overlooked.
So I reiterate: if you can do anything else, do it. The ministry is not for the faint of heart.
I've started a series of articles on Christian parenting in the Hopewell Weekly. As such, I'm pursuing a number of parenting books, including Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp and Give them Grace, by Elyse Fitzpatrick.
Both books talk about the danger of moralism, that is, training your children with law and not with grace. Our duty as parents is not just to make them good and control behavior, but to help them understand the gospel in the midst of their behavior problems.
I appreciate the lessons in these books. They are extremely valuable. But want to add one more-- one from which only Presbyterians can benefit. Presbyterians have an advantage when it comes to presenting grace to their children. It lies in the fact that our children are sealed with the sign of grace at the very outset of their lives. In other words, our children have been baptized as infants.
Baptism is a testimony of God's grace. It confirms the fact that God is pleased to wash away our sins and welcome us into His fold. It reminds us that salvation is of the Lord and that we are completely powerless and undeserving. This is beautifully testified to in an infant baptism. Grace flows down upon the head of a weak, wretched sinner in his/her diapers.
Here is the key for parenting: this sign and seal continues to be a useful tool as they grow up. Baptism isn't supposed to be something that is forgotten or disposed of with the changing of their baptismal diaper. Children need to be reminded of it continually through their life. It's reality and meaning should be impressed upon them repeatedly as they grow up. Or, as the Westminster Confession says, their baptism should be "improved" over the whole course of their lives.
Here's what I mean: Let's say Johnny is duking it out with his little brother. You come in and peel Johnny off and rescue the younger sibling from being pummelled. Now, of course, Johnny needs disciplined. He needs to be told that his anger is sinful and his actions are wrong. He needs exhorted to love his brother and treat him with respect. But Johnny also needs the gospel.
Johnny needs to be reminded that the Lord is gracious and willing to forgive. He needs to understand that through Christ reformation is possible.
This is where his baptism is useful. Why should Johnny be kind to his brother? "You've been baptized," a parent can say. "Johnny, remember that you've been baptized. The Lord has promised salvation. The Lord washes away sin." "The Lord has put his mark upon you. The Lord has graciously taken you as His own and set you apart unto Him."
Lectures are good. Conversations needed. But verbal communication often fails and your earnest exhortations can fall on deaf ears. This is where the sacraments are so keenly applicable. The eye (or the mind's eye, as the case may be) can see. The image of water, the sign of God's covenant, the visible memorial of Christ' precious blood, can still have the power to humble and induce true service.
In sum, I wish to exhort those of us not to be baptistic in our parenting. We have the advantage of a powerful means of grace. We present children for baptism that they may know grace from the very first moments of their lives. We as parents should then let it echo on down through their days. As long as they are in our household, we should hold forth the promises of their baptism.
A tool for Christian nurture is at our disposal. Let us use it profusely, and let grace of it ring forth loud and clear.
Do not be anxious. Fear not. Let not your heart be troubled. Do not be weighed down with the cares of life.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Easier said than done, right?
The Bible is replete with commands not to worry. The admonitions against it are so clear and repetative that one can easily become worried about becoming worried!
But God's word is clear: We must wage war on worry. We have a duty to not let ourselves be distracted with it or dominated by it.
But how do we do this? How can we experience sanctification in this area?
The first step is to confess it and take responsibility for it. That is to say, when thoughts begin to race around in our minds and we become obsessed with particular situations (real or fantasized), we must own up to the fact that we are in sin. We are disobeying God.
One of the reasons anxiety persists in our lives is because we fail in this, the most simple and basic part of repentance. Instead of turning to God, we will do one of the following:
1. We blame others - I'm worried because my kid is 10 minutes past curfew. My boss was supposed to tell me if I got the promotion last week. It's not my fault I'm strung out, right? Wrong. You may worry about others, but they are not the cause of your worries. Your anxiety is due only to your own sinful proclivity. Don't pass the buck onto them.
2. We minimize it - To many people, worry is not a sin. We don't want to admit that it is a transgression against God and a form of disobedience. We'd rather think of it as "deep concern" or think of ourselves as having a full heart. But we must be true to Scripture and recognize that it is indeed an offense to our Lord.
3. We excuse it - I have a right to be worried, after all I'm his father/mother. I'm a worrier; it's just who I am. Someone has to be concerned around here. We will come up with all kinds of justifications. We will rationalize our sin into perfect reasonableness. But the truth is, we do not have a right or excuse to be all hot and bothered about anything.
4. We think we have no power over it - I can't stop it. I've been this way all my life. It is a disorder. I can only cope and make do. This is the defeatist mentality. Its saying that redemption isn't possible, so why even try repenting? In the words of Churchill, "Never, never, never give up." The Lord has not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
5. We gloss over it - For many, worry isn't even considered to be a sin. They don't think of it as being a real infraction against God's law. It could be thought of as a problem or struggle that they have, but not a sin. But Scripture is clear: it is a grave error and serious offense to God. It must be confessed and repented of.
If we are ever going to seek victory over worry, we must wage war on it. This means we must first come to terms with it and own up to it before God. As we begin taking responsibility for our sin and acknowledging our failures to God, we will be well on our way to victory in that battle.
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