Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Pastor's Desire for Evangelism

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor and contributor to the Gospel Coalition. He has written several books and his ministry is well known, yet he finds himself convicted to share the gospel more. We can learn a lot from this kind of devotion in the bothers and sisters around us! In a recent post he shares an encouraging testimony and some wisdom on day to day evangelism.

"...I’m learning again that faithful evangelism requires putting to death the fear of man. Will I ever stop having that halting tightness in my chest? Will those hesitation-inducing thoughts of rejection and offense ever fade away? You know, probably not. I’m likely to always feel some hesitation and some fear of man when it comes to evangelism. But what am I going to do? Not share the greatest news the world has ever received? No. I’m going to remember Romans 1:16, Philemon 6, and Hebrews 10:38-39, and other such texts which encourage, admonish, promise, and guide."...

The rest can be read by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gurnall's Wisdom on Unanswered Prayer

I just started reading William Gurnall's classic The Christian in Complete Armour. Beware the trap that we can fall into when we consider Puritans; We view them as intellectual (they were), but almost to a fault of their not being able to really guide in a day to day walk with Jesus. However, I would make the case that your pastor is not the only one who benefits from their works. I'll share an excerpt from the book later to wet your appetite and show you just how "9 to 5" these guys could get!

"I can never read those old Puritans!  They talk way over my head and there is nothing in their books for me!" Banner of Truth has put out a modernized and abridged version of Gurnall's work in a three part series. And now you think "I can't read a modernized Puritan, that's like reading the message translation of the Bible!" Point 1: Puritans may have had the Spirit of God in their life but they did not necessarily write in an inspired and perfect format.  So, it is no sin for our brothers and sisters to help us understand the writing by editing it. Point 2: You are in a horrible position because Puritans were "doctors of the soul" and you could be holding yourself back from serious help. So either take a class on how to read 16th century English or get the abridged version here!

Here is a summary of Four Reasons God's Power is Sometimes Hidden from the Chapter titles The Saint's Call to Arms.

" 'But,' says some dejected soul, 'I have prayed over and over for strength against temptation- and to this day my hands are weak! No matter how hard I try, I cannot resist. If God's power is really engaged for me, why am I not victorious in my Christian life?'

1. You may have overlooked God's power
...Perhaps you prayed and expected God to answer in a certain way, but while you were watching for Him from the front window, He slipped in the back door. What I mean is this: you expected sudden relief from your trial, but instead God gave you greater strength to pray with greater fervor...

2. God may have purposely delayed His power
...When a mother is teaching her child to walk, she stands back a short disctance and holds out her hands to the child, beckoning him to come...because God loves his children, He sometimes lets them struggle to strengthen the legs of their unsteady faith...

3. The cause of hindrance of the blessing may be in yourself
If your heart is not set in the right direction when you appeal for deliverance, strength will not come...All He does for your own good, so that when your pride lies gasping, you will be forced back to Him.

4. God may call you to persevere in the face of overwhelming odds
...You must be resolved to live and die waiting, for that may be what He requires...The prophet was not sent to the widow's house until she had baked her last loaf of bread..."


Friday, January 25, 2013

Blessed is the Rugged Man?: Pursuing God Through the Vocation He Has Called You to

As a new year dawns, most of us are beginning our Bible reading plans. However ambitious or realistic we were in choosing a plan most of us will be reading through Genesis this month. Something that has been a real object of wonder and anxiety in my heart when I read through the beginning of Genesis is the story of Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel are two brothers (maybe twins, maybe not depending on who you ask) who are invested in different vocations. Abel was the rugged man; the man who was out in the field tending the flocks and putting literal meat on the table. I like to think he was probably fighting off wolves and lions to ensure his flock's safety (1 Samuel 17:36). Cain, on the other hand, was a man with a different calling. His calling was to produce. And this is where the problem arises for me. Did God simply choose the man's sacrifice who had the better calling in life?

Note: I am reading the chronological bible plan. If you want to join click here! Or just check it out.

Do not get me wrong, I am aware that hours of hard work go into farming. Tilling the ground after the fall is intentionally difficult for man and this is not the place for arguments about the masculinity of one trade over another. But, my first reaction is always to feel like there was something physically more pleasing about the sacrifice Abel gave. Was God simply more pleased with meat than veggies? I mean meat has always been more difficult for humans to make a stable part of their diet, the yield of the field is what people in third world countries must survive on and meat is only a welcome delicacy on their table. So when God had regard for Abel's sacrifice and not Cain's I always feel a little down. "Poor guy," says my heart, " he was just doing the best he could. I mean look, he brought his offering and it's not his fault the lentil's were small that year." But this is not the correct way to respond to this passage and the key is proper Biblical hermeneutics. 

1. When I keep reading (using the hermeneutic principle of immediate context) I find that God makes no real statement of sin on the part of Cain's physical sacrifice. Instead, he warns Cain that sin is in fact "crouching at the door; and it's desire is for him." God even asks Cain why he is angry and why he has responded so irrationally. God's lack of regard for Cain's offering does not seem to be an attempt to try and illicit some response from Cain. God was not saying that Abel had chosen the better vocation. He was saying that Abel had chosen the better attitude. Faith.

2.In Hebrews 11 (using the hermeneutic principle of using scripture to interpret scripture) we find that Abel had offered a better sacrifice because of faith and not because he had the preferred occupation. God's acceptance of Abel's gift was out of a warm love for the faith the Abel had when he gave his offering. Not his superior career ladder.
"By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks." Hebrews 11:4
In Genesis God even exhorts Cain to continue on and learn from the experience rather than get angry with God and jealous of his brother. Promising Cain "if you do well, surely you will be accepted". God is instructing Cain to come in faith the next time, not to change jobs. We see in this passage God's willingness to accept our sacrifices if done in faith. If we are in very different situations and have different interests than our brothers and sisters, it is not the vocation or the disposition of the person that effects God's blessing; it's faith.

Another set of brothers comes on the scene twenty-one chapters later and this time the rugged man is in need of faith. "Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man living in tents" Genesis 25:27. Jacob would go on to father the twelve tribes of Israel and share direct lineage with Christ, and then Esau would father many nations that would go on to clash with Israel (Edomites). Here we see that the more mild brother (if we can make that assumption) was chosen by God to exhibit faith and the literally hairy chested and rugged man was not chosen.

So what can we conclude from these two sets of brothers who exhibited different interests and characteristics that they carried with them into their livelihood? That the rugged man is as well off as the less rugged. Pursue God in faith and pray that He would put you into the place in life that He wants you and then by faith offer your gifts and honor to God. Trust that your vocation is just as pleasing as another brother or sister's because God desires faith above everything, including ruggedness.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Exhortation from 2012 Fellowship Conference

Mason Vann gave an exhortation at the 2012 Fellowship Conference put on in Denton, Texas for the past few years. Here is a link to sign up for this year's conference. I find his exhortation to mothers excellent!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: The Life and Diary of David Brainerd

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Johnathan Edwards is a book that I've seen to be highly recommended by many.  John Wesley wrote, "Let every preacher read carefully over the Life of David Brainerd".  However, I have also heard many people today recommend this book with a side of caution. "Dude. It's intense..." is the usual, followed with "But really good."  I can safely say after reading this book that David Brainerd was an intense guy.  Brainerd said of himself, "I was from my youth somewhat sober, and inclined rather to melancholy than the contrary extreme." Translation: Brainerd struggled with depression. Edwards saw this as well, but noted the benefits, and stated that "he had a great insight into human nature, and was very discerning and judicious in general; so he excelled in his judgement and knowledge in divinity, but especially in things appertaining to inward experimental religion."  Basically, Brainerd's struggle with melancholy (depression) caused him to go deep into the caverns of his own heart and find, then root out sin.  He was very sensitive and aware of his own sin.

Here's the question that came into my mind before reading this book: Will Brainerd's struggle with depression ruin the book?  I can say with confidence that it did not, but made it all the better.  We get a glimpse into a godly man's life and see that he was not perfect, but that he was growing.  There is a noticeable change in Brainerd's journal entries from the beginning to the end in his dealings with depression and sin.  In the beginning, I was tempted with thinking that perhaps the way he thought was the way all Christians thought about themselves and their sin back then, but throughout the book it became more evident that the way he described himself was no average thing.  Brainerd struggled with low thoughts of himself.  I got the feeling that it wasn't a healthy thing. He was focusing on himself too much at times, like when he would go a whole week without feeling any joy and living in a state of complete dejection.  It is evident that God used Brainerd's natural leaning towards low thoughts of himself for His own glory though.  By the end of the book Brainerd was more watchful and aware of his own feelings and was more often reflecting on having his "spirits refreshed and raised".  This is one reason why the book was good.

God gave David Brainerd, a strong desire to glorify Christ and an equally strong interest in the things of God.  "There is no comfort, I find, in any enjoyment, without enjoying God, and being engage [sic] in his service."  That was the heart of David Brainerd, and that is the big reason why this book is so beneficial and encouraging.  Brainerd was a man who strove after God in all things.  He was a godly man, in my opinion, and one that should be imitated for the most part.  A word of caution though: don't attempt merely to imitate or parrot David Brainerd without realizing what he was aiming towards.  Another way to put it is that you can not recreate godliness without meeting with the one true God.  Don't just live vicariously through David Brainerd, but use him as an example of a godly man who made it his goal and desire in life to live in the presence of God and for the glory of God.

One thing that I felt was lacking in the (auto)biography was the detail of his evangelizing to the Delaware Native Americans.  He does mention preaching to them and going to them, but doesn't mention any specifics about the fruit of his labors.  Personally I like it when (auto)biographies go into detail about who got saved and how they're doing later, or how a church started, etc. One of the main reasons I enjoy reading biographies is because I get to see God working through a normal man in saving a multitude of people.

If you're on the fence about reading this book, I would recommend waiting until you've finished the other books you want to grind through.  The Life and Diary of David Brainerd is an encouraging book and left me in a state where I wanted to know God more.  I want to pray more, read more, etc., but at the same time it left me a little disappointed with the lack of detail.  I'm not saying that this wasn't a good book or that it shouldn't be read, but that there are other books out there that, in my opinion, are more encouraging, less intense, and better written.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Great Sermon

This (<- Click!) is a fantastic sermon on the way God loves us, please listen!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

John Adam's: A Political Puritan?

As I am now on my second biography of a U.S. President I have come to the conclusion that this is going to be a more difficult task than I originally had planned. It is hard to peer into the soul of a man through pages and ink! If the biographer doesn't give you anything to work with then you are put in a very difficult position to make any safe calls on the man's life. Such is the case with John Adams. Without pouring over his personal letters from hundreds of years ago and doing more reading than I have time for, Adams is a hard man to nail down.

John Adams was born and raised in Massachusetts during the beginning of the 18th Century and this means he was raised in the Puritan tradition. This also places him at the heart of the Great Awakening when men like Whitefield and Edwards were prominent public figures. If we remember, Adams was going to school originally to be a minister and we can judge from this that there was always at least some interest in the religion of men like Edwards. Adam's letters to his wife Abigail and Thomas Jefferson (later in life) include many reflections on religion. The following are quotes from Adams:

"There is great pleasure in hearing sermons so serious, so clear, so sensible and instructive as these..."  -July 4,1774
 "I had rather go to church. We have better sermons, better prayers, better speakers, softer, sweeter music, and genteeler company. And I must confess that the Episcopal church is quite as agreeable to my taste as the Presbyterian...I like the Congregational way best, next to that the independent." -October 9, 1774
"I have examined all religions, as well as my narrow sphere, my straightened means, and my busy life, would allow; and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more philosophy than all the libraries I have seen." -December 25, 1813
 "The ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my religion..." -November 4, 1816
 "As I understand the Christian Religion, it was, and is, a revelation"- December 17, 1816
 These and many more quotes give us an insight into the theology of Adams and it is clear that doctrinally he had swerved very little from the men who impacted Puritan thought. Adams held true throughout his life to the Christian profession and was much more up front than Washington. This makes him an easier subject in one way. Yet, men are men at best.

Adams was known for being stubborn and many times was called vain by his critics. He was known for his blunt style of argumentation. Adams was so embittered against Jefferson's tactics to win the 4th Presidential Election that he refused to go to Jefferson's inauguration. Adam's also was not one to allow his name to be slandered without a defense thereof. At times refutation is necessary as the truth is important and has to be stood up for but in an effort to defend every slander and accusation thrown at him, Adams came off as a man who was too wrapped up in his own image and ideals. Whether his character faults disqualify Adams as a follower of Christ is not my place to say. Public life as a political figure during this time was very similar to today in that your faults will always get more attention than your strengths.

 John Adams held to orthodoxy when it came to Christianity and was a professing Christian through his entire life. He had character flaws that people made a point to bring up. These sins, like all sins are not beyond the forgiving power of Jesus for those who are walking by faith (1 John 1:9). Will I meet John Adams when I get to heaven? I don't think I can say right now, but I can rest assured that whatever state John Adam's soul was in as it entered eternity, His creator knew his soul much better than I did..."will not the judge of all the earth do right?"

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

David McCullough Interview

This video is a sixty minutes interview of David McCullough who is one of today's greatest United States historians. His ability to tell the story and put history into context inspires me as a future social studies educator.

3 Ways to Live with Joy

Tim Challies has an excellent writing style that is easy to follow and to the point. One of his newest pieces is a short reflection on joy and how God would have us live in light of Ecclesiastes. Read it here and enjoy!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Review: A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Reviewing a book on prayer is an interesting beast to tackle.  First, there is the issue of whether the author stays true to the Word.  Is what they are saying biblically true?  Second, there’s the issue of whether the author stays true to grace and doesn't fall into legalism.  Is what they are saying holding true to the freedom that Christians have to pray and does it then take advantage of that, or do they only talk about a requirement to pray and the consequences of not?  Third, there’s the issue of practicality.  Does the author treat this book as another theology book on prayer or do they provide practical experiences to help the reader in their pursuit to pray?

Paul Miller’s A Praying Life does well in dealing with these issues.  Very well.  I have read a couple of books and listened to a handful of sermons on the subject of prayer, but this one takes the cake in my opinion.  

In terms of remaining biblically true I would say that Paul Miller does a good job.  I can’t remember a time where I theologically cringed, or thought to myself, “Uh oh... What’s he talking about?”  One thing that I wish there was more of would be explaining the different promises or verses regarding prayer.  He does this a bit, but I wish he would have done it more.  Paul Miller also does a great job of humbling the reader.  He emphasizes that we have to pray like children who are helpless.  That’s fantastic for me because I fall into the trap of thinking that I should pray to get better at prayer, or I should pray only because I know I should.  Now it is easier to see that prayer is actually humbling ourselves before God and making our needs known to Him like children. On another note, this book does a great job of feeling real.  A lot of books or sermons on prayer leave me in this weird state where I want to pray for three hours the next morning and if I don’t then I probably did not pray in the right way.  I don’t pray because I’m making my needs known to God, or worshiping God as my Father, but I’ll just pray to... pray because the book told me I needed to.  Miller stayed away from this.  I came away feeling like it was possible for a Christian to pray at all times without ceasing.  I think the table of contents give an insight into this:  Part 1: Learning to Pray Like a Child (with chapter titles like Learning to Be Helpless), Part 2: Learning to Trust Again (with chapter titles like Following Jesus out of Cynicism), Part 3: Learning to Ask Your Father (with chapter titles like Why Asking Is So Hard), Part 4: Living in Your Father’s Story, and Part 5: Praying in Real Life.  Miller does a great job of using his experiences to show the reader each aspect of prayer, which was very helpful for me.  He’s a great story teller and is good at tying these in to what he’s speaking on.

Overall I would recommend A Praying Life for any Christian who struggles in prayer.  This book has been a great help and encouragement to me.  Paul Miller does an excellent job dealing with practical issues in prayer in such a way that will leave you wanting to pray.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

John Adams: A Quick Life Timeline

Seeing as the name of John Adams' cousin Samuel Adams has become more of a household name thanks to a namesake beer, I thought I might give you a quick summary of his life before we discuss his spiritual life.

John Adams father was a deacon in Braintree, (Just Outside Boston) Massachusetts where John was born and raised. John's father set him on track early to go into school with the goal being the ministry. John went to Harvard with the original intent on the ministry, but as he reflects " it was whispered and circulated among others that I had some faculty for public speaking and that I should make a better lawyer than divine." He also expressed his inclination was to preach but the religious establishment threatened his liberty to think. Adams chose to become a lawyer and began to practice in 1756. After Britain had implemented the stamp act (1765) and during the years leading up to the revolution, Adams was a very outspoken author.  His newspaper installment piece "Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law" thrusted him forward as a political figure in the resistance against these taxes. During these years Adams held several public offices for Braintree just as his father had. After moving to Boston and retiring from public office to be a lawyer again (He served as defense attorney for the British soldiers of the Boston Massacre in 1770) he was informed that in 1774 he had been elected by the general Court of Massachusetts to attend the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He was 39.

Adams played a major part in this Congress. He was more moderate in his desires for independence early on during the stamp act, but he took a stronger stance in the continental congress and was in charge of urging Jefferson to draft the declaration and was pivotal in the debates to convince all "states" to vote for independence. He was soon assigned as an ambassador to France to work for peace with the one nation that could really swing the revolution in America's favor. He would leave in 1779 and not return to America until 1788. Soon after arriving Adams found that initial peace had already been established with the French and he was re-assigned to Holland to make a treaty with the Dutch. Adams would be successful in gaining loans from the Dutch and once done here was sent to England to achieve peace with the Great Britain after the war was over.

Adams returned to America after his work as an ambassador and upon receiving the second most votes from the electoral college, was elected vice president (vice president was the second place winner back then). Adams served as vice president under Washington for two terms until he was elected president by the backing of Hamilton and the Federalists in 1796. He was much against political parties yet was often called a monarchist and many worse names in his leanings. He signed the Alien and Sedition acts which limited free speech in America against the government. Adams made it his goal to settle peace with the French who had soured in their relationship with the U.S. since the U.S. had refused to help their war against Great Britain. Federalists called for preparation of war and action against the French and the Republicans called for a uniting with France against Britain. This desire for peace with France and taste for policy that gave the federal government more power made him unpopular with both the Federalists and the Republicans respectively.

Adams would achieve peace through the success of Napoleon Bonaparte who offered peace once he took the office of French monarch. It was too late however, and Adams lost the next election (1801) to Jefferson. Adams finished his life writing his memoirs and letters to Thomas Jefferson who was at time a fierce opponent but ended up being his dearest friend. Both friends died on July 4th 1826 as the last two founding fathers alive.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Shaw's Biography Overall Review

After reading Peter Shaw's The Character of John Adams I would warn you against picking this volume up if you are expecting a good over view of Adam's life and the events that impacted the world he lived in. This biography zooms over what we would see as major events in a person's life such as the deaths of two of his children and his wife and chooses to focus in an unbalanced manner on John Adam's as a man consumed only by a desire to defend his own glory and pride. Shaw does a great job focusing on this aspect of Adam's character throughout his entire life but fails to paint Adams as caring about anything else. Adams, like all of the founding fathers, had his enemies and critics and it seems like he was always in a correspondence to clear his reputation. Yet we have to assume there is more going on in a person's life than their never ending pursuit of a clean name. While Adams certainly did care about his reputation, he also cared about the future of America and his family both of which take up a total of only about a quarter of Shaw's discussion of Adams. In conclusion, as a discussion of Adam's pride and vanity this biography does a good job of covering these topics from his early life to his death. However, Shaw speeds over important events and deaths and expects the reader to have a previous knowledge of the events like the Alien and Sedition acts as he approaches his next example of how John Adams was defending his name. For a general overview this biography is not what your looking for. I would suggest reading another biography first and reading this one only if you are interested in Adam's defense of his character through his life.

The most widely acclaimed biography on Adams is McCullough's John Adams I knew about this book when I chose Shaw's biography and decided to stick with Shaw because McCullough's piece is 750 pages and I needed a speedier read for my winter break restraints. I plan on some day reading McCullough's piece when I have the time and I hope it fills in the gaps that might be left from Shaw's biography.

As I process Shaw's work and try to organize my thoughts for a synopsis of Adam's spiritual life I am finding myself much more confused than with Washington. Shaw focused very very little on this aspect of Adams so there is little I can gather either for or against his standing with Jesus. I am hoping to get a conclusion out about John within the next week. I am also considering writing about Abigail Adams (John's wife) as she was very outspoken in her letters about the Lord and her life is equally as intriguing as her husbands.