Friday, May 28, 2010

Project Peter Reader 5 - Fear Not! by Ligon Duncan

Fear Not! is a helpful and concise book on what the Bible teaches concerning death and the afterlife. The book started off stronger than it finished. The most beneficial chapters were the first two: chapter 1, What is Death?, and chapter 2, What Happens After Death? The rest of the book remained on task by answering questions biblically, but in my mind it lacked the punch and depth of the first two chapters.

Duncan’s writing partner, Nicholas Reid, writes in the Introduction, “The concern behind this book is less about trying to satisfy curiosity and more about trying to equip people to approach death from a Biblical perspective.” This mindset helps the book be more effective in its cause. The book does comfort, but it more so wants to renew our thinking concerning death. The book does challenge unbelievers, but it wants to build up saints in the way they talk about death. In other words the book wants to help disciple and mature readers as opposed to just help give “blurb-type” answers concerning death.

I thought this was an especially positive aspect of the book. In our culture it is very easy to go along saying and thinking quite silly things about death. On top of that conversations about death occur for us quite frequently as death occurs around us quite frequently (to say the least). Heck, when celebrities die the whole country is pondering death. At these times we have ample and quite natural opportunities to share the hope of the resurrection of Jesus. Still, it is so easy to maintain shallow conversation when talking about the most grave of subjects. This book did not merely help us sober up about the present situation in our culture, but it helped to mature our thinking and thus our conversing. Hopefully we talk more biblically, more truthfully, and more compassionately when death comes into a dialogue.

The most helpful thought that the book offered was its comparison of how Christians think about heaven and how non-Christians think about heaven. What I am referring to is captured in this sentence on p. 15-16, “The unbeliever prefers Heaven over Hell; the believer prefers Heaven over this earth.” No one wants to go to Hell, duh. That is not the crucial question. The important question is “Do we want God?” Do we desire God above all else? Is our treasure in heaven or on earth?

Often times when evangelists speak to unregenerate folks they will cap their message by putting forth “Do you want to go to Hell? No, you say. Then become a Christian?” However, they should more helpfully say, “Do you want God? Or will you pursue the vain, empty, passing pleasures of this fallen world? Will you exchange the glory of the immortal God for things created to look like mortal man?” I think this would help unbelievers know what legitimate salvation is like. It is not mainly about getting out of hell but mainly about getting God.

The other portion of the book that was really beneficial for me was thinking about the cause of death: sin against God. Duncan commented that before death was even possible God had already warned Adam about it and let him know that death’s cause is disobedience towards the Lord. He then spoke of the two separations that take place because of death: (1) separation between us and God (We were kicked out of the garden) and (2) separation within ourselves (Our spirit leaves our body when we die.)

It will be important to communicate sin as the cause of death when we are talking about death with our friends and trying to present the gospel to them. Once they understand that sin is the real problem, then that will lead them to understanding why they need the slain Son of God. Death is not their ultimate issue; God is. They have turned from him; they have offended Him. In His holy justice He must be appeased. That is where God stepped in by coming to us in Christ to conquer death by becoming sin on the cross. Wow. Crazy good news. May those who we speak to about death hear of Him. May it be so, Lord.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spring Book Log (Project Peter Reader)

The last time I posted a book log I said my aim for the new year was to begin reading less books. I hoped to spend more time digesting what I was reading and likely re-read some books that I thought would prove beneficial a second time around. Then I went to the Together for the Gospel conference with my dad-in-law. We got 22 books(!) at the conference...for free! Of course we payed to be at the conference, but this was quite the add-on. Anyway, my dad-in-law (Peter) and I decided to start what I have called Projet Peter Reader. Because we both got the identical set of 22 books(!) we decided to read them together and compare thoughts/notes. It has been helpful and fun to read together. All that said I have been reading a lot more books because we are on a one-book-a-week schedule.

The Basis of Christian Unity by Martyn Lloyd-Jones: This tract (Apparently a tract back in the day was 70 pages or so) seeks to respond to what has been called the ecumenical movement that began in the second half of 20th century. MLJ passionately expounds upon John 17 and Ephesians 4 as they are key texts concerning the unity of the Church. Also, there is a run through rest of the NT as to what it says of unity amongst Christians. His main point is that Christians don’t make the unity of the Church. Christ made the unity of the Church through His work of redemption on the cross and through the power of the Holy Spirit regenerating believers into the people of God. (March ’10)

Room at the Table by E. Baily Marks: This book is the first I’ve read that is specifically about a particular social justice issue. Marks writes with a passion to see the church rise up against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The editing is bad. Some of the insights are really good. There are a lot of cool testimonials of whole villages being turned upside down by the work he and others have been a part of. On the other hand, he often caricatures the church as the ridiculously bad side fundamentalism (Fundi-to-the-undis as Tom Nelson says.). I fear he creates confusion because his solution to these self-righteous, hateful church members is that they need to be more educated about the AIDS epidemic rather than repenting of their foolishness and trusting in Jesus. (March – April ’10)

Judges: Such a Great Salvation by Dale Ralph Davis: Never has a commentary had me turning the pages like Davis’ work on Judges. Davis is clear that his is an expository commentary, so he is focused on the text and focused on the main points of the text. He does not completely neglect the original text, referring to it often. His footnotes hit on textual issues as well. The humor that runs throughout the book is matched by some of the most striking rebukes aimed at the church that I’ve ever read. (April ’10)

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul: With such a focus on this crucial characteristic of God this book is quite powerful. Sproul’s study helps stomp out the "me-centered" theology that creeps into my life. Understanding God’s holiness seems to draw a lot of his other attributes together; that is, understanding His holiness helps us understand His love, His justice, His sovereignty, etc. He had some really good teaching on Romans 5 and 12, and also some really good stuff on Job. (April ’10)

The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves: This short book is reads quickly. His style keeps pulling you forward until you're done before you know it. Reeves wants to get to the bare essentials for understanding the Reformation. The chapter that talks about the state of the church before the Reformation was particularly helpful. His focus on Luther’s post-conversion life was unique in that most writers focus on his almost hysterical pre-conversion state and end with his dramatic conversion. Reeves gives some good insight into the transforming work that Christ did in Luther’s life after He saved him. The two main lessons from the book: (1) The Bible must remain central and authoritative to our life, ministry, and theologizing, and (2) External behavior modification brings no real reformation. The heart must be reached by the Word of God, and then change happens! (April ’10)

The Plight of Man and the Power of God by Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Five gripping sermons on the second half of Romans chapter 1. These may actually be lectures, but they have too much fire not be close to being sermons. MLJ takes on the romantic idea that Man is improving over time. He exposes the folly of this way of thought from all angles. In the process we convincingly see mankind’s need for redemption and how it has been accomplished in Christ. (May ’10)

Finally Alive by John Piper: This book reminded me why John Piper is my favorite author. Two reasons: (1) Crystal-clear exposition of the Bible. (2) Exposition done not for the sake of being clear, but that God would be glorified as we grow in our love for Him and communion with Him. God used this book to do two major works for me: (1) It helped me in my pursuit to never get over the fact that I have been born again. Me! Nuts! Grace! (2) It helped me think about evangelism in light of the sovereignty of God in our salvation. (There is rich spiritual drink on this topic from 1 Peter, 2 Cor, and others.) I was not only helped in thinking about evangelism but encouraged to take part. (May ’10)

Fear Not!: Death and the Afterlife from a Christian Perspective by Ligon Duncan with J. Nicholas Reid: This book was designed to be able to be read quickly but still have some depth. It is one that could be given away to someone facing death in whatever way that would have full answers but not be too intimidating or long to read. I would certainly feel confident giving this one away to a wonderer. To me the two opening chapters were the best, but throughout the book there were highlights. His instruction in chapter 1 concerning the relationship between sin and death was most helpful. (May ’10)

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus by D.A. Carson: It seems Carson picked five of his favorite passages of Scripture and preached on them and then Crossway published it. They were beneficial meditations with some really good illustrations. Carson’s style is witty, sharp, culturally insightful, and, most importantly, cross/resurrection centered. His breakdown of basing our religion on “how good of a day I had vs. the blood of the Lamb” was piercing. (May ’10)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mid April Update

Hey Team:

I just wanted to write you guys a quick email to update you on what all has taken place over the last few weeks.

Since I have last written to you we have had another team come help with the project, celebrated Easter, and completed quite a bit of work on the site. Now that the footings have been completed, the other workers and I have been working on what is called the "cement corridor", which is basically a cement footing upon which the walls will be built. While the team was here they worked and eventually completed the corridor so that we could move forward with putting the blocks in place for the exterior wall. As of today (April 14) we have completed the first few phases of the putting the exterior wall in place and this week plan to work on pouring some vital floor beams that will hold our interior columns together. If you would like any more information, please let me know and I will be glad to answer your questions.

The team was here for about a week right before we celebrated Easter, or as they call it here: Semana Santa (Holy Week) They were comprised of 14 college students from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and I will brag on the hard work that they provided the entire week, plus no one was robbed, so... Victory! Not only did the students do all kinds of strenuous work--like mix and pour concrete, bend re-bar, and dig trenches--they also won the hearts of the construction workers and the children attending classes here in Guatemala. I´m not just saying that either. To give examples of their hard work I will mention that one student dropped a rock on his toe the first day and injured himself, but for the rest of the time he was here he helped mix concrete 8 hours each day--and--to give examples of their love I will mention that my workers still talk about their attitudes and refer to them by name when telling stories. In fact today, Felipe was telling me about how one of the students had the nickname "rock" and he thought it was so silly when he actually found out what the word "rock" translates into, but that they were so friendly that it didn´t bother them being called "rock."

Once the team left the school and practically the entire country of Guatemala took off for Semana Santa. Many people traveled all over the country going to Antigua, the beach, or just visiting with family. I took the time to relax here in Toto after the previous hard week of work. One of the most amazing things here in Guatemala is that people will create these murals in the street of sawdust for Holy Week. It takes them hours to put them together then on Good Friday the town will have a parade which will march over the artwork leaving it all scattered. It is a pretty amazing thing, and I would recommend either looking at pictures online or coming down here next Easter season.

I would also like to let you know that I have actually met some other English speaking missionaries in Xela, and they invited me to attend a Bible study. The first meeting was last Tuesday and it was very fun, except that when I left and returned to my car I found out it had been stolen. Yes, in three hours between 7 and 10 p.m. my car was stolen, but the story gets better. After learning it was stolen I phoned Timoteo (the campus director) and the two of us went to the police station to file a report. While we were there Timoteo was describing the car: "Toyota. 1983. Beige." The police officer said, "Beige Toyota? We just had one returned here." Praise the Lord, it was at the police station! Apparently, someone stole it, drove it out of town and then left it. The car was reported as suspicious and then the police went and picked it up. I tell you it was an amazing relief to see that car parked at the station. After about thirty minutes of inspections, police work and a "tip", the police let us drive the car home. As I think back I can't help but notice Gods hand in all of this. I don't know why the car was stolen, but I do know that it was reported back within three hours in a country not known for savvy police work, and to me that is amazing. Everything was out of my hands, out of my control. But in the end God showed me grace and the car was found and returned. Praise God.

I know this has been a long email, but I recently (yesterday the 13) encountered another set of events worth mentioning. My house was burglarized. Luckily, I had my phone and ipod with me and the thieves overlooked my passport, but other than those things they wiped me out (computer, camera, wallet, sunglasses, even a flashlight). I'm a bit confused as to what the Lord is trying to tell me write now through all of this crime, but I know He is there somewhere and His way are just and holy. I believe God is in control over all things, but sometimes it is hard to see Him at first through unfortunate events. CS Lewis. in the book the "Problem of Pain" wrote that "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain." I do think there is something to be learned here, and I pray the Lord gives me patience while I seek the answer. After all "life is more than food, and the body more than clothing" Luke 12:23

Well, I hope that all of you are experiencing moments like this as well that show God's people (team), God´s love (Easter), and God´s grace and mercy (car), and His holiness in despair (theft) . Granted, I'm not praying for your car to be robbed, but I do pray that the Lord opens your eyes more and more everyday to the wonders of His being. Thank you again for your prayers and support. It really means a lot and encourages me daily...I´m not just typing really does help.

God Bless

"All people walk each in the name of their god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever." Micah 4:5

Monday, March 8, 2010

Footings Complete

Greetings, Team:

So as you can tell by the subject line we have finished all of the footings, and let me tell you, that is a major relief. Now, we have moved on to the task of re-routing a sewer line and moving dirt to prepare for the walls. I know, I know. It seems like we are moving extremely slow, but when you only have three workers and you do everything by hand, things tend to move really slow. One interesting thing I saw a few weeks ago was a well digger here in Antigua. He digs wells here by hand anywhere from about 30 ft to 400 ft! He uses no shoring--just a shovel, a bucket, and a home-made winch to lift himself out and lower himself down everyday. Some of you may have already heard this, but I still can't get over it. Crazy. That's just a taste of what it means to work without the benefit of machinery.

Other than that it has been pretty slow here in Toto. I attended a missionary conference two weeks ago here and it was very encouraging to talk with other English-speaking missionaries from around the country. I met one couple that is 80+ and has been here for sixty years! That was amazing and super encouraging to realize that no matter what age we are God can still use us. It reminds me of the part in Jeremiah 1:7 when God says, "Do not say I'm a child because everywhere I shall send you, you will go." I think the conference was also good because people are beginning to see the value in constructing things properly. With the recent tragedies in Haiti, Chile, and Taiwan many people here in Guatemala are scared that their buildings will crumble on them. When I hear it I just remind myself to thank God for what has been given to me and think of Psalm 127: "Unless the LORD builds the house its workers labor in vain." Also, I learned of a documentary about Guatemala that is supposed to be coming out in the near future named Athenticos. I will try to keep you all posted on the film because the clip I saw looked really interesting.

I still greatly appreciate your prayers, notes and support. Each day I rely wholly on the strength of the LORD, and knowing that I have people praying for me is an enormous encouragement. One thing that could also use your prayers is one of the construction workers here named Antonio or simply Tono. Tono didn't show up for work this past week and when I asked where he was, everyone said, "Don't worry about him. He is probably at the lake getting drunk." The people told me he is an alcoholic and spends all his money on booze. Now I don't know the extent of his problems, but I do know that this culture is very legalistic and they seem to marginalize people into certain classes that they can't escape. So I just ask for prayers for Tono, his family and for the community to accept him when he returns.

Again, thanks for all the support. It has given me great peace with each passing day.

God Bless

The LORD has said, "O mortal, what is right?¨ And what does the LORD require of you except to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God? -Micah 6:8

Winter Book Log

This winter had several more "re-reads" as I am trying to read less overall and focus more on the absorption of what I learn (as opposed to mere exposure). I hope to continue this trend throughout the year.

My book log continues to be a helpful thing to make my reading experience more beneficial. For instance, there have been times in the past that I would forget what I had been reading even a month prior. This project has come in handy, if for nothing else, to recall books I had the opportunity to read before.

Cross Talk: Where Life and Scripture Meet by Michael Emlet: This book was more of a challenge than I bargained for. It was not challenging to read but challenging to receive. The author’s intentions to provide direction for interpreting Scripture in light of the whole sweep of redemptive history is compelling and convicting. The purpose of the book is to correct our tendency to slap a Bible verse on someone’s problem, and think we did our job faithfully. Ouch. (Nov ’09)

Called to the Ministry by Edmund P. Clowney: It seemed often that the author’s thoughts were sporadic and so it was hard to follow his arguments. However, he did have some paragraphs that were mind-blowers. Those jewels and the author’s obvious passion and reverence for the call to Christian ministry make the book worth it. (Dec ’09)

This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanance by John Piper: My main focus in this reading was the first eight chapters. These are the chapters that ground the reader in the biblical definition of marriage, headship, and submission. My aim was to outline each chapter so as to follow his arguments as best I could. What a fruitful exercise! The purpose of marriage is the glory of God in the gospel of His Son, so we could never exhaust learning about this subject! (Nov-Dec ’09)

Sex, Romance, and The Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know by C.J. Mahaney: My second reading of this book proved even more how helpful it is. I read through the book at 3 pages a day, and this strategy helped all the more. Every morning for almost a month I was thinking about my marriage. I was thinking about how I can win my wife’s heart. The shared wisdom and ideas concerning how to love our wives is priceless. It has given me practical direction that I will cease to exercise only when I or my wife are dead. (Jan – Feb ’10)

What Is A Healthy Church? by Mark Dever: The short chapters and small pages made this an easy book to fly through. From the onset of the book Dever is very straightforward in asserting the importance of the local church in a Christian’s life, and the testimony of Scripture he puts forth makes for a compelling case that he is right to be so straightforward. This book contained the first reading I had ever done on church government. Dever argues for congregationalism, and it left me really wanting to know how other forms of government are argued for. (Feb ’10)

Anxious for Nothing by John MacArthur: This book is MacArthur doing what he does best: expositing the Scriptures. In this case he does so in a topical fashion. Almost all of the chapters center around one passage of Scripture apiece and are selected with idea that they are most worthy to be studied when desiring to fight anxiety. Cross references litter this book as MacArthur attempts to teach the Bible using the Bible. This book would be a good week to week study for a group. (Feb ’10)

The Gospel in Genesis: From Fig Leaves to Faith by Martyn Lloyd-Jones: This book was my first exposure to Lloyd-Jones. Having heard that his evening services at Westminster Abbey had an “evangelistic” sermon, my guess is that these sermons were from those evening services. MLJ pleads with the unbeliever throughout each message. Here he wants to answer the “ultimate questions” of life (Where did I come from? What is wrong with the world? What will fix the world?) using passages from the first 12 chapters of Genesis, specifically chapter 3. His style is fervent. Lloyd-Jones rails against sin and unbelief, and he makes clear their folly. He is constantly trying to demonstrate that the Bible is a book for real life and that it is “true history”. He denounces the Scientism of his day. His confidence in the Bible is whole-hearted. (Feb – Mar ’10)

Numbers by God: My second time reading through the fourth book of the Bible has proven profitable. I continue to learn that the more I read the Pentateuch the easier it is to keep up with. This point seems obvious; however, I would walk away seemingly with nothing from my first attempts reading this book. As I have come back to read again the story line is easier to keep up with, people’s names are easier to remember, and the like. More importantly is that I continue to see the steadfast love and faithfulness of God towards His people. Also (on the more humiliating side), I see their miserable disposition to doubt Him. Their grumbling and complaining outweigh their praise in this piece of the epic story of redemption. (Feb - Mar '10)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to Not Idolize Preachers

Can a preacher be idolized? This question is like asking, “Can a party invitation take credit for a good party?”(Think about it…) The two do not seem to flow together. However, as any honest person would affirm “our hearts are idol factories.” People can make anything or any person an idol. We can take any sort of good thing, make it an ultimate thing, and there you have your idol.

What about idolizing a minister of the gospel? Could it be possible? More people than we may think are dealing with this issue. With the development of mega-communication systems and mega-churches, preachers of God’s Word can get quite a bit of attention. Yes, even the preachers who are telling people, “Repent of your idols and trust Christ,” are being thought to be potential idols. Their conferences are well advertised and well attended. Their podcasts are downloaded by the millions. Their books fly of the printing presses.

So, what may one do if he finds himself in such a predicament? Here are few things to think about.

First, however, let me throw in a disclaimer. Someone may read this and think, “What a bunch of weirdoes! Worshipping a preacher?!” Before you go that route think about this: All idolatry is weird to at least some people. For instance, when I see hundreds of thousands of people give their time, money, devotion, commitment, and praise to a football team it makes me think one thing: dumb. So, all idolatry, even Christianity, is going to be seen as weird to at least some people. Before you hate on preacher-worshippers just think how silly you look when you get giddy because of your new gameday tee-shirt.

Back to how to squash preacher idolatry:

1) Idolize God:
God is more powerful, more holy, more humble, more loving, more knowledgeable, more faithful, more joyful, more just, more experienced, more patient, more peaceful, and more gracious. Not to mention He is the only self-sufficient being ever. He is eternal, immutable, ever-present, and absolutely sovereign. Too put it simply, He is the better God. We are dumb to choose our preacher-gods.

Meditating on the truth about the true God will liberate us from our false gods. I do not mean just memorizing these truths, but I mean we need to absorb them. They must be the framework of our lives, the sustenance of our souls.

2) Get your own preacher:
What I mean by “Get your own preacher” is, “Join a church.” Partner yourself in the most serious way with a local congregation. Immerse yourself into their community. Covenant together with them to be as biblically faithful, Christ-centered, and God glorifying as you can. If you do this, then you will have your own preacher.

How does this help with preacher idolization? It helps in two ways. If you have your own preacher you will see him for who he is: a sinner saved by grace. You will know, firsthand, he needs the same gospel that you do. His remedy is the same as yours. Then you will think to yourself, “This guy is a terrible idol. I need the real thing. Give me Jesus!”

This direction will also help in that you will have less time for outside preaching. You will be following your church’s agenda for studying the Scriptures. There will simply be a lack of time to listen to the famous guys.

3) Use good preaching rightly:
There are two parts to this one: (1) Use good preaching and (2) rightly receive it. To avoid preacher idolatry make sure the preaching is similar to the church you will join: biblically faithful, Christ-centered, and God glorifying. If the preacher is doing his job, then he will be constantly steering you to Christ. His arguments will establish the truth of Christ. His plea will be to repent to Christ. His wisdom will flow out of the fear of the Lord. His adjectives will exalt the name of the Lord.

If you stopped right there, then you would be on a good road to not worshipping the preacher. Still, we need to receive good preaching rightly. The preacher worshipper goes wrong when he thinks, “What great preaching! That preacher is great.” Instead he should think, “What great preaching! God is great.” We must know that preaching is a means of the Holy Spirit to make known Christ’s gospel. It is not a means to make known a preacher. Thus, we should ask after every sermon we hear, “How did this time spent under the preached Word reveal to me more truth about who God is for me in Christ? How did this time help me root out the stingy sin stealing my affection for Jesus?”

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Construction Underway

Greetings team:

As I write you this email from my desk in Guatemala, the first thing I want to mention is just that we need to be so very thankful to our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ. The more I read about the recent events in Haiti and all over the world the more I can't help but feel amazingly grateful for the position in which I was born into. I encourage you to look at this situation with a sense of appreciation to the LORD for everything He has blessed us with because we are sinners. I'm sure you have been overwhelmed with the media constantly reporting about the whole situation, but I pray that we use it as a way of looking to God and thanking Him for His Grace.

Since my last email…
We have begun construction and have seen our first team come and go. The team consisted of eleven students and one professor from Dordt College in Sioux City, Iowa, and let me tell you they were an amazing blessing. It was wonderful to get to interact with English-speaking people and to see the way their hearts desired to serve the LORD. The first part of the week they worked on painting one of the campus dormitories and getting it ready for a large group of students expected to have a retreat here in late July. After they were done there, we all began the first bit of site work...aka...digging footings for the building and bending rebar for the columns. Again, I will remark on what a great job they did. Digging five-by-five-by-five foot holes with nothing but shovels and pick axes is not fun, but the group managed to get quite a few of the holes started. Now three Guatemaltecos (Guatemalan Nationalists) and I are finishing up the holes, and preparing to pour concrete atop the footings. One other interesting note is that the team left some clothing and shoes behind for the people here and since most Guatemaltecos are short and have small feet it is quite funny to see them all working in women’s shoes and t-shirts. Even though the clothes aren’t for men, they fit and ultimately the workers are extremely grateful to have anything new. To be a part of this whole process has been extremely interesting, and I thank God that everything has been running very smoothly so far.

There was one particular incident, though, that should also be mentioned, and that was being robbed at gunpoint while we were on a hike. God protected us and opened our eyes to some issues, but it was a very surreal experience. That day the group, myself, and a fellow Guatemalteco went hiking up a mountain located behind the school. We went up, took some great pictures, and then after about 30 minutes headed back down the same trail. As we were going down the switchbacks the Guatemalteco who was our guide rounded a corner to see two men standing in the path with guns. They held the gun to our guides' head, and made us all sit down and get out our money and belongings. Since it was a switchback and I was at the rear two other girls and I were able to toss some of our things into the woods so that they wouldn't be taken. The guys walked up and down the line pointing the gun at each one of us, and frisking us to make sure we weren't hiding anything. After about fifteen minutes they made us hike back up the mountain so that they could make their get away. The story sounds surprisingly simple when I type it out. Anyway, we then returned to the school and, as you can expect, we were all in a sort of shock as to what had happened; so the whole group went into a house here and sat around and prayed. I tell you that moment was amazing. I can't remember everything that was said, and I wouldn't feel right about sharing the prayers, but just know it was one of those special moments in life. You know it is times like this that make you realize what is important and what is temporary. It is the same with the situation in Haiti. Every day, every morning, every thing is a gift from God. In the end, the thieves made away with a phone, a few cameras, and about forty bucks, but as we all know those are simply earthly possessions.

The last day before the team departed one of the girls shared a devotion on Psalm 37, and I although I would urge to read the whole thing. I will leave you with this one verse that I think is a great way to start out every morning.
Psalm 37:5
"Commit your ways to the LORD; Trust in Him, and He will act."

May God's Grace be with you.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Feliz Navidad

Greetings from Central America

Last time I wrote you I was unsure as to how long I would be in language school, but that is no longer the case. I recently was alerted by the ministry that they will need me to be present for a mission team on December 31. So with that being said I will be leaving language school after this next week 12/18 and moving to my more permanent location in Totonicapan. Which is exciting my Spanish is still improving, but I believe it well get better the longer that I live within the culture.

One slight variation to my original job description is that I may also be doing some preliminary design for a project in another city. Sometimes when working on things in developing countries one has to be flexible and willing to change directions, and this seems like one of those times. Although I am very excited at the opportunity to work on as many different things as possible it does make me a little worried that I won't be able to provide the proper amount of attention to both projects. But hey "I can do all things through Him that gives me strength" so I'll get through it.

So with that being said that is pretty much all of the new news from here. Things are still going well with my host family although we did have a little battle with an infestation of fleas, but after several bites and a few loads of laundry we emerged victoriously. So praise the LORD for getting us through that. The people here have continued to be extremely friendly, and I thank God for this blessing because it has helped to comfort me when I feel alone. I also am so incredibly grateful for for all of you. It is impossible to quantify how extremely comforted I feel to know that I have a support team filled with other believers who are praying for me.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and Merry Christmas with friends and family. God has blessed us all with incredible things over the course of our lives, and I pray that we all continue to see Him above all things.

Joy to the world the LORD has come!

One of my favorite Christmas messages is this one from John Piper where he uses the verse John 18:37 Pilate said "so you are a king" and Jesus responded "it is as you say. For this I have been born. For this I have come in to the world. To bear witness to the truth and whoever hears truth will hear My voice"

*pictures should be updated this weekend at this site

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Log for Fall

Here are the books I have read through throughout the fall.

How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp: This book focuses on the right things concerning the Christian life: the heart, self-examination, evil and suffering in the world (and in us), the cross, community, and growth (or present grace or discipleship). These truths are standard for not just understanding but experiencing the Christian life. As Future Grace is meticulous concerning the Christian life, How People Change is holistic concerning the Christian life. Very penetrating, easily re-readable, and worth a more serious study.

Turning Points by Mark Noll: Overall it was readable and helpful for getting a “big picture” view of the history of Christianity. After the chapter on the Diet of Worms things get more complicated as the schisms within the church multiply, so the first 7 or 8 chapters are more helpful than the last 4 or 5. The inserts of original texts were nice. The material on Martin Luther was passionately and well written (displaying the authors confessed affection for Luther's thought).

A Call to Prayer by J.C. Ryle: “Piercing exhortation” is the best phrase to capture this 32 page tract. About a year ago I tried to read it and only got about six pages in before I could go no longer. The author’s warnings of eternal consequence to the prayerless person are, as I said, piercing. His final commendations to the one who does pray are very helpful, however, still sharp. Because of its energy and brevity this will be a good re-read.

When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey: The book has a wonderfully helpful thrust: understanding and embracing the reality of the depth of your sin (and your spouse’s) will propel you to embrace the cross of Christ and live a life of love, sacrifice, joy, etc. Along with this is a lot of helpful wisdom in different aspects of the Christian life (showing mercy, grace, forgiveness, etc.) The chapter on confronting sin in your spouse’s life is really good.

Culture Shift by Al Mohler: Three things helped this book stay interesting: short chapters, relevant topics, and convincing arguments (The citing the author does of secular or opposing arguments is really helpful for this last one.). The book is a necessary read for developing a Christian worldview as a U.S. citizen because of the individual topics discussed. The chapters on abortion, parenting, and Christian morality and public law were the most beneficial.

Addiction by Ed Welch: As much as this book is about addictions it is about sin. The book is helpful for anyone who sins and wants to understand it and fight it. There is a much needed agenda within the book of centralizing the debate about whether addiction is a sickness/physical problem or a sin/spiritual problem. The book addresses counselors and addicts. The application questions at the end of each chapter are worth the price of the book alone.

Leviticus by God: There was a lot in there I am sure I did not understand, but two things are clear: God is holy and if sinners are to know Him they must be atoned for. God’s presence cannot dwell amongst any sort or amount of rebellion. Their sin must be punished if sinners are to know the Holy One of Israel.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reflections on Rom. 6

For quite some time I have wrestled with what 'the specifics' are that are floating in Paul's head as he inspirationally pens Romans 5-7. Is he still flushing out what is means to be justified? Is he now explaining results of justification: hope, assurance, etc.? Has he moved on to sanctification specifically? Is it some combination of these?

Recently I have come across some potential insight on Chapter 6 that I felt like sharing, either to edify you, the reader, or open myself up to correction and rebuke from you, the responder.

My observations begin from examining the phrase in 6:20 ~ "free in regard to righteousness." Because Paul's teaching on the unbeliever's (Jew or Gentile) relationship to “righteousness” is so clear in Ch.1-3, this phrase “free in regard to righteousness” may be very helpful at beginning to understand many other Pauline phrases (especially in the surrounding context): “set free from sin,” "slaves of sin, " and “slaves of righteousness.” Paul makes clear that, though people are not as bad as they could be, no one can live in righteousness as to obtain it's results: eternal life(2:6-7; 3:10,20). This is very possibly what he means by “you were free in regard to righteousness.” This might equate “free from sin” meaning that there is no way Christians could live in sin as to obtain it's results: death. Also, just as those who are “free in regard to righteousness” have 'more room' to be more wicked, those we are “free from sin” have more room to be more holy. Now, this understanding of “free in regard to righteousness” could indicate that “slaves of righteousness” means that Christians will undoubtedly obtain the outcome of righteousness: eternal life. Likewise, a “slave of sin” would undoubtedly obtain the outcome of sin: death.

However, even if all this has some validity, one cannot simply make these four statements about justification. The entirety of Ch. 6 demands that there are aspects in these phrases regarding the way one lives his/her life (6:4 “walk in newness of life” and 6:22 “set free from sin and have become slaves of God”), not just our legal standing before God.

Aha! It is very possible the inseparability of justification and sanctification (more or less the point of Ch.6 (6:1-2, 15)) is defended by Paul because he cannot find words to describe one (i.e. Being “free from sin” indicates we are unquestionably released from it's condemning power (justification)) without somehow describing the other at the same time (i.e. Being “free from sin” indicates that we are unquestionably released from it's appeal and attractiveness (sanctification)).

I can potentially see this same depth to the phrases "live in [sin]," "died to sin," "died with Christ," "live with him," "alive to God," etc. Verses 8:1-4 might be helpful to look at as well.

I need to let this marinate a little more. Maybe someone can help me do so. But wherever we land on this one, there are helpful reminders thrown in the middle of this chapter for us to end on:
1)6:19 ~ "I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations [talking to Christians!]"
2)A combination of the commands in v.13 and 19 ~ "present yourselves [our responsibility] as instruments/slaves of righteousness" with the worship in v.17 ~ "Thanks be to God [credit given to God], that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart..."