Sunday, August 30, 2015

Oh the Glory of the Steadfast Love of the Lord!

At the core of the love of God is steadfastness. Faithfulness. Undying commitment. The refusal to give up. The determination to lavish grace until it transforms the receiving soul. 

And oh the glory of this kind of love! It is the great hope and the fountain of joy in this life. 

The other day I read Psalm 36. It begins by bemoaning sin in the human heart and as we contemplate what's said there we realize that David's words are an accurate portrayal of our own hearts. As this sinks in, we begin to feel the weight of our sin and wonder how we'll ever be right with God and others. 

But then come these hope-filled words like a flood! They shift our perspective from our hearts to our Savior. Please savor them with me, remembering that the "steadfast love of the Lord" is the "never-ending love of the Lord." 

"Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light" (Psalm 36:5-9). 

If we turn to the Lord and believe in him, the measure of our hope and joy is the measure of his steadfast love. So contemplate the measure of his steadfast love in these verses and you'll surely feel the power of the hope and the depth of the joy we have in him! And then remember that he kept his steadfast love, and best demonstrated it, all the way to the day when he sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die and live again for the forgiveness of our sins and the restoration of our relationship with him. And then remember that the God who has been steadfast and faithful will be steadfast and faithful forever and ever. 

O Friends, may we allow the glory of the steadfast love of the Lord to grip our hearts! There is no greater hope and no deeper joy. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fishing for the Glory of Christ to the Delight of my Wife!

I’m still in shock. Kim's still in shock--and she's totally happy, just look at her! 

Somehow, some way, this summer I bit the hook and took up fishing! It all started at the Wild River State Park where Craig and Jeralyn Prange graciously allowed Kim and me to use their camper for a week. Jeralyn had mentioned that the park arranged for canoe trips on the Saint Croix and so when we arrived we looked into it, signed up, and had a great 3-4 hours floating along, enjoying nature, and enjoying each other’s company.

A few days later, as I was contemplating how to take another similar trip, it occurred to me that I’d actually enjoy fishing in that kind of relaxed environment. So I did some research on river fishing, especially along the Mississippi, I discovered that bass are the main fish in the river, and I found some resources that taught me how to catch 'em! 

Next thing you know, I was the one saying, “Kimmy, let’s go to the bait shop.” “Kimmy, let’s go fishing.” “Kimmy, I’m done working for the day, meet me at the river!”

She was in shock. She was elated. She’s been trying to get me into fishing for twenty-five years, no exaggeration!

I too was in shock and I still am but I have to stop writing now because the fish are hungry and I want to throw a line in the water! Maybe I’ll see you along the shores of the mighty Mississippi as I’m fishing for the glory of Christ to the delight of my wife! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Want to Grow in Faith? Make Christ the Subject of Your Constant Thoughts

John McCarthy, a close friend of Hudson Taylor, once wrote this in a letter to Hudson: “How then to have our faith increased? Only by thinking of all that Jesus is and all he is for us: his life, his death, his work, he himself as revealed to us in the word, to be the subject of our constant thoughts. Not a striving to have faith…but a looking off to the faithful one seems all we need; a resting in the loved one entirely, for time and for eternity” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Littleton, CO: OMF Books, 2010, page 119).

McCarthy is right to say that faith is increased as we look to Jesus, for faith is trust in the faithfulness of God. We don’t get or grow faith by thinking about faith but by thinking about the source of our faith. Further, McCarthy is right to say that we grow in faith by thinking both about who Jesus is and who he is for us. Contemplating the truth about Christ surely is the proper starting point for fresh faith but at some point we must also address the “so what?” question. Sometimes the various attributes of Christ don’t have overly-specific personal and corporate applications to our lives but most times they do.

So, how does this work in daily life? It’s simple but it requires devotion, time, and discipline. Here are the steps I take when seeking to gain or grow fresh faith.

·   Read the Scripture and prayerfully meditate on what they reveal about Christ. For example, Hebrews 2:17 teaches us that Jesus is a merciful and faithful High Priest. The process of prospering our faith begins by taking the time to pray and think about this, to write down our thoughts and questions, to press deeper into the Scripture, and to seek the insight and counsel of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, the way to think “of all that Jesus is” is to contemplate what the Bible teaches us he is. Faith cannot prosper apart from this labor of prayer and meditation.

·        As we gain clarity with regard to who Jesus is, it is right and necessary for us to meditate on who he is for us. Notice the “us.” Life in Christ is life together, and the best faith-building insights come as we come to see the implications of the being and character of Christ for the body of Christ. Corporate insight always has personal application but before the Lord we are a singular temple, body, and bride. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Again, the point is this: when you contemplate all that Jesus is for us, think about “us” and not just yourself.

·      As we gain clarity with regard to who Jesus is and who is he for us, we must seek God’s power and help to receive and obey what we’ve learned.

So how does our faith increase? By contemplating the Scripture, discerning who Jesus is, discerning who he is for us, and then walking in humble obedience by the power and mercy of Christ.

As for me, my reading for today will be in the Psalms, Proverbs, and Hebrews. As I open the Word, I will seek the Lord with regard to these things and then ask him for power to walk in his will and ways. Why not join me in the quest for fresh faith? If you do, please share with me what the Lord teaches you, both of himself and of the process of growing in faith. May the Lord bless us all as we seek him day by day.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

New Book Coming: "Living by Faith: Meditations on the Letter to the Hebrews

I have been on sabbatical this summer but contrary to popular opinion sabbatical is not vacation. Rather, sabbatical is a time to draw away, be with the Lord, and engage in some labor that normal, daily ministry doesn't allow. Besides my work on two doctoral courses (one of which I finished and the other of which I began), my primary labor this summer was completing a book I've been writing over the last couple of years. 

For now, the book's entitled Living by Faith: Meditations on the Letter to the Hebrews. The forty-six chapters are edited versions of the sermons I preached on this sacred letter from the fall of 2012 to the fall of 2013. At the moment it's 429 pages long plus a brief Preface. 

More importantly, it was a great privilege to spend 250 hours or so meditating deeply on Hebrews. In my view, the sermonic-letter is more like a symphony than a theological treatise, and therefore I envision it in four movements: The Glory of Christ (1-6), The Work of Christ (7-10), The Call of Christ (11-12), and The Commands of Christ (13). I can't explain to you what it's been like to gain such sight of the glory of Christ and to be able to just soak in it--no meetings, no sermons to preach, no other obligations. Just Jesus, his Word, and time. 

I'm very grateful for this gift, and now I'm hoping and praying that my long labor on this book will help others see and savor the stunning glory of Christ with me. 

By the way, not that the manuscript is complete I'm in the final editing process. I need people who are willing to read 5-10 of the chapters and (1) look for errors, (2) check for consistency [I have a guide to help with this], and (3) offer whatever feedback they'd like. Are you willing? If yes, send me a note at charlie@gcfmn.org and we can work out the details. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Latest Doctoral Course: "Fresh Directions in Biblical Preaching"

In late July I took a doctoral course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (near Chicago) entitled “Fresh Directions in Biblical Preaching.” The course was taught by Kent Anderson, President of Trinity Western University, presiding Chairman of the Association Canadian Theological Schools, and Professor of Homiletics (preaching). He’s written several books on preaching but for this course we only read Choosing to Preach which I reviewed on my blog sometime ago.

The book was decent, the course was great. Dr. Anderson has progressed in his thinking quite a bit since Choosing to Preach was published and I benefited tremendously from his passion for Jesus, his passion for preaching the Word of God, his passion to work on the craft of preaching and always strive for improvement, and his breadth of knowledge and practical wisdom. I also benefited greatly from my fellow students, all of whom are full-time preachers with many years of experience.

In the months before I left for sabbatical I was feeling somewhat stagnant in my preaching and I didn’t know why. I was asking the Lord to help me, and he surely did. The seven books we read for this course plus the incredibly rich four days we spent together have provided me with all I need to make some adjustments to my preaching process and delivery that will keep me fresh, interested, passionate, and on the learning edge for many months, if not years.

And as an added bonus, the course inspired a topic for my doctoral dissertation which I’m set to begin next March. I’ll have to keep that to myself for now as it may not get approved, but I’m excited about it.

Last but definitely not least, it was such a privilege to have Kimmy with me during the week of the class. She had to work on this and that, and so didn’t spend much time in the class with me. But we were able to have lunch together every day, and to enjoy the nights together. The Lord really blessed us that week and for that we’re very grateful.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Returning from Sabbatical Today

Old Town Elk River, Minnesota
Today I return from my three-month sabbatical, and I’m both eager to enter into what the Lord has for me in the coming season of life and a little concerned about re-engaging too quickly. All the research I’ve read about sabbaticals says that if you re-engage too quickly afterwards you can reverse the benefits of it in a heartbeat.

So the plan is to set a reasonable pace and keep it! Please pray for me in this respect.

I haven’t blogged in quite a while because I was very busy over the last part of my sabbatical with a doctoral course entitled “Fresh Directions in Biblical Preaching” and finishing up my book entitled Living by Father: Meditations on the Letter to the Hebrews. Both the class and the book were a real joy. I’ll write more about this later, but both fed my soul and helped me to envision the future that the Lord has for me, especially with regard to preaching, teaching, and writing ministry.

But for now the plan is to seek the Lord, spend as much time with people as possible, and carefully pick up this and that task again.

The one thing that makes me somewhat sad is that the end of the sabbatical means that I will not be able to spend as much time with my Kimmy, and with Rachel. We’ve had a wonderful summer together, the Lord has blessed us in many ways. We’re happy to re-engage life, me at GCF and Kim at teaching (she starts tomorrow, we think), and Rachel at her daycare. But we’re grieving just a little.

Thanks again, everyone for praying for us. I look forward to checking in with many of you soon, but I’ll need some grace to set a pace that works for us!