A Puritan Prayer for Preaching

As I spent some time in The Valley of Vision, I ran across this prayer from the Puritans entitled “A Minister’s Preaching.” It resonated with a lot of my thoughts and feelings, so I thought I’d pass it along:

“My Master God,

I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task; Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for thee; Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction.

Present to my view things pertinent to my subject, with fullness of matter and clarity of thought, proper expressions, fluency, fervency, a feeling sense of the things I preach, and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.

Keep me conscious all the while of my defects, and let me not gloat in pride over my performance. Help to offer a testimony for thyself, and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.

Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people, and to set before them comforting considerations. Attend with power the truth preached, and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.

May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted, and help me to use the strongest arguments drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings, that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness, that I might be a pure channel of thy grace, and be able to do something for thee;

Give me then refreshment among thy people, and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way, or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a Redeemer, or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end, and lack of warmth and fervency.

And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.”

Note: I struggle a bit with his intention of “slothful audience,” as the Puritans were industrious people. I think the intent is that truth would be preached with power to awaken the spiritually apathetic. Hope this prayer is an encouragement to you.

World and Word: How God Reveals Himself

c333d6yehi0-aaron-burdenUnless God reveals himself, he could never be known. God is completely “other” than us – unapproachable in his holiness and unlimited in his power. But he is also loving. And in his love he has made himself known to us.

In the Bible, we read a song that David wrote that helps us see how God has made himself known to us. We know it simply as Psalm 19, and in it we find the two primary ways God has made himself known.

The psalm begins with the words, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The first 6 verses continue to speak of how creation displays aspects of God’s nature. The book of Romans picks up this same idea when Paul writes:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” 

If you had lived your life on a deserted island, there are certain things you could learn about God if you were thinking deeply. You may think of him as powerful, the One who created the world. You may think of him as faithful, as you notice that the sun rises and sets each day without fail.

This is often known as “general revelation.” God has revealed himself in ways that everyone can see: in creation, through his actions in history, and in his special creation of people. Through general revelation, we can learn about God, but it is through the specific revelation from God that we can know him personally.

As David continues in Psalm 19, verse 7 begins to speak of the law of the Lord, the testimony of the Lord, the precepts of the Lord….he is speaking of Scripture, part of what is known as the “special revelation” of God.

Special revelation includes God’s appearances throughout Scripture, his direct speech through the prophets, the life of Jesus as the exact imprint of the divine nature — and all of this is contained in the Bible.

Think back to life on the deserted island. If you had spent your life without Scripture, there are some things about God you could have learned. But just think if a trunk washed ashore with a Bible that you could read. You would see that this powerful and faithful God has entered covenant relationships with his people, revealing himself as loving, faithful, and forgiving. Even though his people sinned and worshiped other gods, in his great love he gave his only Son to bring about forgiveness to those who would turn to him.

In God’s greatness, he is unknowable. But in his goodness, he has made himself known. Like David, we can look at the world he created and see his glory. And we can look in his Word and see his great love for us.

Through the world and his Word, God has made himself known. And he invites us to know him, to experience his unfailing love.

Guarding Friendships

pexels-photo-42504Good friends are hard to find. In a good friendship, we seek the best for each other and lovingly speak truth to each other. We are there for each other in difficult times. We sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron. This is how the Book of Proverbs describes a good friendship. Not just an acquaintance, but the kind of friend that sticks closer than a brother.

If we are fortunate enough to have a friends like this, we need to guard the friendship and protect it. We should be wise in what we do – and don’t do – to avoid a painful wedge severing a friendship. Three verses in Proverbs give direct advice for guarding friendships:

“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9

To cover an offense means to “put a lid on it,” not allowing it to escalate. In doing so we deal with conflict and choose to forgive, with a goal of restored friendship. On the other hand, friendship is devastated by gossip. When offended, guard the friendship by dealing with it graciously, destroy your friendship by gossiping with others about the offense.

“Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” Proverbs 25:17

We enjoy being with our friends. But if we’re not careful, we can smother them. This proverb challenges us to live with discernment. It’s a delicate balance to spend enough time together to develop the friendship, but also give friends time alone or with others. Appropriate time together is important, but guard your friendships by giving each other space as well.

“Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’ — when you have it with you.” Proverbs 3:28

Generous people make good friends. If you can help, then do so! Proverbs 6, however, warns against loaning money to friends and neighbors. Doing so can quickly jeopardize a friendship. In other words, the path of wisdom is to give generously to friends, but avoid loaning money to them. Generosity builds friendship, debt can destroy it. We should guard our friendships by giving, not loaning.

I found these to be practical, helpful tips for guarding and protecting friendships: cover offenses instead of gossip, enjoy time together but give each other space, and be quick to give and slow to loan. Quality friendships are a rare treasure — guard them!

 

Understanding the Book of Proverbs

WALK WITHWe recently began a series on the Book of Proverbs at Venture Church. In the introductory sermon, I gave a couple of insights on how to approach and understand Proverbs. I mentioned that the proverbs are (1) memorable (written to be remembered, not to thoroughly cover the topic), (2) descriptive (they describe the path of wisdom, they are not promises from God), and (3) poetic (often written in Hebrew parallels with vivid imagery).

This short summary captures a bit of the hermeneutics of Proverbs, but there are helpful sources available for a more complete understanding.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart give the following parameters in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth:

  1. Proverbs are often parabolic (i.e., figurative, pointing beyond themselves).
  2. Proverbs are intensely practical, not theoretically theological.
  3. Proverbs are worded to be memorable, not technically precise.
  4. Proverbs are not designed to support selfish behavior — just the opposite!
  5. Proverbs strongly reflecting ancient culture may need sensible “translation” so as not to lose their meaning.
  6. Proverbs are not guarantees from God but poetic guidelines for good behavior.
  7. Proverbs may use highly specific language, exaggeration, or any of a variety of literary techniques to make their point.
  8. Proverbs give good advice for wise approaches to certain aspects of life but are not exhaustive in their coverage.
  9. Wrongly used, proverbs may justify a crass, materialistic lifestyle. Rightly used, proverbs will provide practical advice for daily living.

Another helpful approach is included in Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard. They first remind us that “this literary form’s commands or prohibitions present absolute demands for obedience not tentative suggestions for consideration. Readers must  respond to them with seriousness.” It is easy to lose the force of the commands of Proverbs when appreciating its poetry. These are not just helpful sayings, they are divinely inspired as God’s Word.

They also point out the passion behind the proverbs. “The student must approach wisdom speeches as if listening to a woman passionately pleading with passing crowds to follow her advice. That very passion underscores the seriousness of her advice — how crucial for people to obey it, and how menacing is the danger that stalks those who do not.” They conclude by writing that we can capture the form and content of a proverb by completing this sentence: “This shouting woman urges me to….”

Also, if you’d like to dig a bit deeper, this journal article from Greg Parsons may be helpful.(shared with permission)

One more resource: “Read Scripture” has an informative and entertaining video overview of the Book of Proverbs. I have enjoyed their book overviews and their treatment of Proverbs does not disappoint.

At Venture, we have issued the “Proverbs Challenge.” Since there are 31 days in both July and August, we have encouraged everyone to read a chapter of Proverbs each day for two months. And in the spirit of pursuing wisdom, we are asking everyone to prioritize church attendance, where we will preach wisdom from the Book of Proverbs each Sunday in July and August. I pray God will use his Word in our church, and I invite you to join us on the journey as we “Walk with the Wise” through the Book of Proverbs.

An Unexpected Guest

IMG_1812-1An unexpected guest showed up in our backyard this morning. The dogs were barking like crazy, and a strange hissing sound was coming from our barbecue. Turns out it wasn’t hissing, it was the screech of a baby owl. The owl was somehow separated from his family and was just trying to get a good day’s sleep behind our grill….the dogs were not cooperating.

So we locked the dogs in the house and left the owl alone for an hour or two, hoping he would just fly away on his own accord. He was scared and nervous though, and wasn’t going anywhere. So eventually, we made the call to Animal Control. I pressed the officer to find out what was going to happen to our new friend. Apparently, our city takes animals like him and cares for them in a foster environment for a couple of weeks, then brings them back to the neighborhood to release them into their natural home.

As they picked him up, this frail baby owl spread his wings. At that moment, he looked powerful. He was majestic. He’s young now. He cowers in fear. But when he spreads his wings, you get a glimpse of the strong predator he will become. In a few weeks, he’ll be back in the neighborhood — bigger, stronger, and hunting down all the rodents we’d rather not have prowling around.

But not yet. He needs to be rescued. He needs people like us to keep the barking dogs away. He needs Animal Control officers to care for him and make sure he’s ready to take on the real world. And then he will fly. He’s not meant to hide in my backyard, he’s meant to soar and hunt. Just a little more training, and he’s ready to take on the world.

In a couple of days, my daughter will walk across a stage. We will cheer, and she will be a high school graduate. Today, she is still young. She needs a little guidance. She needs more training. But soon she will take on the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love my “little girl.” She has filled my heart with memories I will treasure forever. It’s going to be hard to drop her off at college. But she was not meant to hide in my backyard, she’s meant to soar.

An owl dropped in and I got a new perspective. They may be wise after all.

 

 

4 Things You Can Do Today to Share Jesus

evangelism-608x459Many Christ followers want to point people to Jesus, especially in these crazy times we live in. Recently, we were challenged at Venture Church to pray for three people who have not put their faith in Jesus.

But the thought of sharing our faith can be terrifying! I’ve often chuckled at books that make it sound easy, like you “just walk across the room,” “tell someone,” and simply “invite our friends on a spiritual journey.” (Good books to read by the way, just follow the links!)

Today’s cultural context of pluralism and political correctness makes pointing people to Jesus even more intimidating. Why would we share the gospel if the content of belief is irrelevant? If all roads truly lead to God, why bother offending someone or risking ridicule? But if Jesus meant it when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me,” we should take seriously our call to share the gospel.

The ultimate goal is that every Christ follower will understand the gospel and have the boldness to share it with others. To quote the great Leo Marvin,Dr._Leo_Marvin however, we often take “Baby Steps” to arrive at that goal. Here are 4 things you can do today to share Jesus with people around you:

  1. “Share” the gospel. Social media can be a good platform for getting the word out. It’s a casual way to identify yourself as a Christ follower, and it further spreads the message of the post. The simple step of “liking” a Facebook post from your church or “sharing” an interesting blog extends the reach of the post exponentially.
  2. Be friendly. Smile at people, greet people, strike up a conversation with your neighbor. Resist the societal pull towards isolation. One caveat, however, don’t be friendly in order to “win people” or with the goal of converting them. Just be friendly. If God is at work in this person’s life, he will draw them to himself. We just need to communicate love and be ready to tell the story of the gospel when opportunity arises.
  3. Ask questions. It’s the old adage: “Everyone’s favorite subject to talk about is themselves.” Develop the art of asking questions. Caring for people is so much better than arguing over beliefs. And don’t jump to your own story, don’t try to out-do your friend’s story. Just listen.
  4. One final tip: pray. If you are praying consistently for people to follow Jesus, you are more likely to find opportunities to invite them to church or have a spiritual conversation with them. God works in response to prayer!

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You may think, “I’m no Billy Graham” when it comes to sharing the gospel. None of us are! Hopefully all of us will grow confident in sharing Jesus with those around us. In the meantime, take a few baby steps to point others to Jesus.

 

The Mystery and the Mission

FVYV2NWHEBN9EWK.MEDIUMThose who follow Jesus are called to mission. That’s clear.

The mission is fueled by a mystery. What? Not very clear.

When we see the word “mystery,” we usually think of our favorite investigative show. Depending on your generation, you may think of Sherlock, Shawn and Gus, Scooby and Shaggy, Monk, Columbo, Matlock, or some may even think of Jessica Fletcher. A mystery is a problem to be solved, a “whodunit” scenario. The game, it is famously said, is afoot.

In the book of Colossians, however, Paul writes of a different sort of mystery. The gospel is a mystery because it has been hidden for ages and generations, but is now revealed. We don’t need Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown to figure this out — it is a mystery revealed. Throughout the Old Testament, people tried to understand what was being foretold -even the prophets themselves according to 1 Peter 1:10-12. When Jesus finally came, the gospel was revealed. And his last piece of instruction was to share the gospel with everyone…all people, all nations. In the early church, the gospel spread to the Gentiles. God was doing a great thing.

So Paul writes that “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery…” Notice how Paul piles up lavish descriptions of the mystery: great, riches, glory. We know something powerful is coming. And Paul reveals this mystery:

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

It’s a message of inclusion, Gentiles are part of God’s kingdom. It’s also a message of indwelling, Christ IN you is the hope of glory.

And this mystery fuels Paul’s mission. In the surrounding verses, Paul rejoices in his suffering for the  sake of the church, he labors, and he struggles. Why? This mystery is great, rich, and glorious, and it’s worth giving your life to share it with others.

Venture Church is preparing for a Missions Sunday. And there is much to celebrate! We like to think of ourselves as a small church with a big vision. And it shows up on Missions Sunday. We will celebrate our guest speakers Jonathan and Tracy Shoemaker, church planters in Lisbon, as well as people within in our church body who are assisting church planting ministries in Liberia, our upcoming trip to build a house for a needy family in Mexico, opportunities to serve in global missions with E3 Partners, the church planting missionaries we support in Ireland, and a young adult preparing to do missions work in eleven countries in eleven months through an experience known as “The World Race.”

A great mystery has been revealed to us: Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Our mission is to reveal this mystery to the nations.

The game is afoot!

 

A Simple Step to Better Reading in 2016

3-28-13_ReadingDid you make New Year’s Resolutions this year? Having grown weary of failed resolutions, I “resolved” a few years ago to back away from the over-promise/under-deliver reality of New Year’s Resolutions.

This year, however, a personal goal grabbed my attention: I want to grow as a reader. I am not setting numeric goals, such as 3 books a month or 50 books a year. Nor am I using a creative tool that leads to reading a variety of genres. Instead, I am setting a simple, attainable goal that I think will help me become a better reader this year: keep a list.

That sounds too simple doesn’t it? Just a list. Create a document, read a book, and add it to the list. As the year continues, I will keep adding more books as I finish them. Here are a few reasons I think keeping a list will make me a better reader, and why I invite you to join me in this:

Finish what you start. Confession time here, I have a staggering number of books in which I have eagerly consumed a few early chapters, only to set it aside for the next book I get excited about. But only the books that we actually finish get added to the list.

Diversity. Though I am not setting specific goals for breadth in reading, a list will make if painfully clear if I am unbalanced in what I read. If we are only reading fiction, we should read some history. If we are only reading theology, we should read a bit on leadership. If we are only reading professionally, take a break and read something light-hearted. A dynamic list of books should give direction for what type of book to read next.

Competition. Another confession, I tend to be very competitive. I think keeping a list will drive me to read more. Though there is no shame in getting to the end of December and only having a handful of books on the list, many of us tend to be more driven when we are keeping score. And we often set smaller goals as we go along. For example, if by December 15 I have read 28 books, I will probably try to crank out 2 more to have read an even 30!

So that’s my goal. Keep a list. It’s simple. It’s attainable. And I think it will help. I hope to look back on 2016 and see that I read and finished a significant list of books with a healthy dose of diversity.

Want to join me in this simple practice? Have you found other methods to improve your reading? In college, I heard a motivational speaker
say, “Five years from now, you will be the same person you are today but for the people you meet and the books you read.” Let’s make 2016 a productive year of reading together. And I hope this simple step can help us become better readers.

A Cassidy Hug

When my daughter was young, I lovedIMG_0139 getting “Cassidy hugs.” She has been full-throttle since birth, so a hug was usually catching her at full-speed for a “pick-up hug.” She was born in northern Illinois, and we had a routine on the bitterly cold days. I would carry her, and she would put her hands over my ears to keep them warm. A warm hug on a cold day.

I always loved singing to Cass, and usually we sang “Could I Have this Dance for the Rest of My Life” or “Return to Pooh Corner.” Of course, I would occasionally throw in “Hey, Baby! I Want to Know if You’ll Be My Girl” or the “Tennessee Waltz.” She would stand on her changing table and we would sing and dance….then hug.

Several years later, our church had a Father/Daughter Dance. We dressed up, went out to dinner, and danced. As the evening ended, I snuck a note to the DJ with a request. He played, “Could I Have this Dance” for us. We danced. And we hugged. It was a great night.

A bit later, I sat in the grass at Forest Home and listened as people shared about their faith in Jesus. Cassidy stood up and boldly told her faith story. We walked in the water together, I baptized her, and we hugged.

There have been many more occasions for Cassidy hugs. Happy times like holidays, winning the spelling bee, making the game-winning shot in basketball, boys, plays, driver’s license, and national writing awards. There have also been hard times like disappointments, losing the spelling bee, boys, that talent show with lousy judges, teenage drama, and saying our final good-bye to people we love.

Last year, I needed a hug. I had just finished preaching my last sermon at our previous church and didn’t know where God would take us next. I went to join Cass and Jill on the front row as the service ended. As we sang, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow,” I felt Cass move closer for one more Cassidy Hug. We sang, fought back tears, and hugged.

Cassidy is turning 18. Gone are the days of full speed pick-up hugs. In fact, there’s a young man that hugs her more than I do these days. I have loved watching her grow up. It isn’t easy being a middle child raised by two middle children, but she is strong, intelligent, talented, ambitious, loyal, and she has kept the faith. One of her teachers once said that Cass can do anything she sets her mind to do. I believe her. She is exceptional. She is beautiful. She is Cassidy.

Next year, we will load up the car and drive Cass to a dorm. She will meet friends that she will share life with for many years. She will learn many things as she prepares for her adult life. I have experienced taking a daughter to college, so I know the routine: I make many trips from the car to the dorm room. Jill helps unpack and get her settled in. We all get excited about what the next four years hold for Cass. And then Jill and I will drive away…excited for her, a bit saddened by the necessary transitions of life, and pondering life without a daughter in the house. I’m sure there will be another Cassidy Hug. Then my girl, the one who can do anything she sets her mind to do, will begin her next adventure. And watch out world, an amazing young lady is coming your way!

Happy 18th Birthday from a proud dad who’s crazy about you!

8 Goals of a Young Dad

IMG_0561I’ll be honest, I didn’t see this one coming. There were many things I anticipated as the calendar turned to 2015, but I overlooked a couple of significant milestones. My daughters are turning 21 and 18 in the same year. The rights and responsibilities of adulthood are cascading down in the Brown house!

In one of my more reflective moments, I pulled out a journal I started writing in 21 years ago (full disclosure, there are only 10 entries….journaling is not my forte). When my firstborn was just over two weeks old, I made a list of things I had learned that I hoped would be important to her as well. Here’s my list, composed February 8, 1994:

  • Enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
  • Creativity is a far greater gift than money.
  • Never get too old for cartoons.
  • Make time for beautiful sunsets – they are one of God’s gifts to us.
  • Let your family be your best friends.
  • Enjoy all four seasons.
  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  • If you laugh until it hurts, it feels good.

Looking back, it seems that contentment, creativity, and following Christ were important values I wanted to pass along to my kids. If I made a list today, I’m sure it would look a bit different (especially since I haven’t enjoyed all four seasons since I moved to CA). I’m not sure how well I would score as a parent if I were graded with this rubric. But contentment, creativity, and following Christ are still high values that I hope my kids catch.

With that said, I think I’ll go catch a cartoon in time watch the sunset!