Revive Us Again

plants in snowWe’ve got snow on the ground here in Cambridge, but I’m seeing signs of life and growth on campus.

This past week I met with several students who began praying together last November for greater spiritual healing in their lives and greater spiritual vitality on our campus and in our churches.

As we began this new semester, our student council leaders led three evenings of prayer and preaching on the theme of spiritual restoration. Each night we asked the Lord to work in us individually and collectively.

Our faculty and staff meet each Wednesday at lunchtime to pray for God’s ongoing work in and through the school. These prayer times are an expression of our sense of need and our confidence in God to do more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:2o).

If you study the history of revivals, you’ll discover God’s gracious work of reviving His people has sometimes begun on a college campus. One powerful example of this happened in 1806 on the campus of Williams College (Massachusetts).

A small group of five students began meeting on the banks of the Hoosack River to pray for God’s work in their lives and on their campus. One Saturday, a thunderstorm forced them to seek shelter in a nearby barn.

Each of the young men had been deeply impacted by the writings of William Carey abouthaystack the great need for global missions. On that Saturday afternoon, near a large haystack in the barn, they knelt and dedicated themselves to go wherever God would lead for the sake of reaching people with the gospel. Their motto became, “We can do this if we will.”

God answered their prayers by launching a spiritual revival that impacted the campus and spilled over to the churches in New England. These students began the first student missionary society in America. Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette summarized the global impact of the “haystack prayer meeting”: “It was from this haystack the foreign missionary movement of the churches of the United States had an initial main impulse” (https://urbana.org/blog/samuel-mills-0).

Would you join me in praying that God would hear the prayers of the students, faculty and staff at Heritage and grant us a spiritual revival that spills over to the churches and furthers the global witness for Christ? One way you can do this is to set a reminder (phone or computer) and pray for us every Wednesday at lunchtime (when our faculty and staff gather to pray). I’ll keep you posted on how the Lord answers our prayers.

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Roll the Rock

The doldrums of January may have hit.   Though we began the New Year with high hopes, those fifteen pounds, that discouraging situation, or our fears of facing a seminary course can keep us from heading to the gym, trying again, or calling Admissions!

A few years ago, after my husband had asked me to join him in writing Bible study rolling rockcurriculum, we learned an invaluable lesson we called “rolling the rock.” After taking a wonderful course with Phyllis Bennett at Western Seminary on curriculum writing, I began to spend the early mornings every day first with God, then with an open Bible and a blank computer screen. The chapters of Nehemiah, and the stories of Courageous Christian series unfolded each day, bit by bit. Some days writing came easily, but most days I just slogged along. In my mind, I pictured a huge boulder that needed one huge push and a one roll every day.

By God’s grace at summer’s end, fall study guides rolled out. Each August, the Met team made them beautiful, and small groups all over the city had curriculum. The impossible was accomplished by just “rolling the rock” a little bit every day.

How about you? As you now face the reality of 2015 – where could you just “roll the rock?” What project, done a bit each day, could be achieved for God by summer or the fall?

We’re also considering what God would have us do. Some of our “someday” projects now need a bit of our “every day.”   God does amazing things in us, through us, and for us, when we are just faithful each day – to just “roll the rock.”

Speaking of “rocks to roll,” Phyllis Bennett is coming here to Heritage to teach the very Flyer Frontsame writing course that was so helpful to me. This course is part of the Graduate Certificate for Women in Ministry (more info here). Don’t miss this opportunity, after all, anyone can call Admissions!

 

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Put the Big Rocks in first!

BigRocksFirst 1“Put the big rocks in first” is not only a great ending to an interesting story, it’s also some of the best advice I’ve ever received. Putting the big rocks in first is key to intentionally living your life for the glory of God.

In case you’re not familiar with the story of the big rocks, here’s the quick version: A professor walks into his classroom and places a large glass jar on a table. He proceeds to put some fist-sized rocks inside the jar until they reach the rim. Then he asks the class, “Is the jar full?” Most students think it is. The professor disagrees.

He reaches under the table and brings up a bowl of pea-sized gravel. He pours the gravel into the jar, allowing it to sift between the larger rocks. Next he brings out a container filled with sand. He sprinkles sand into the jar, allowing it to settle between the small and big rocks. Finally, he takes a cup of water and pours it in.

“So what’s the point of this demonstration?” the professor asks. One student pipes up: “You can always squeeze a little more in.” “No,” the professor says, “the point is this: if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you won’t get them in at all! So put the big rocks in first.”

The professor is right. Try his experiment in reverse order (begin with the water, BigRocksLast2sand and gravel) and you’ll find the big rocks get crowded out.

The same principle holds true in life. If you don’t put in the “big rocks” (main priorities) in first, they get crowded out.

Most of us spend much of our time on the sand and gravel of life—smaller priorities and responsibilities. Our lives feel full to the brim. We’re always trying to squeeze a bit more in. Yet we live with an uneasy sense that the big rocks of life are getting crowded out. And that’s the way it will stay until we choose to put the big rocks in first.

How do you do that?   Begin by spending time in God’s presence with an open Bible and an open heart. Ask Him to help you identify the big rocks (main priorities) He has for your life. Invite godly friends to be part of this discovery process.

The next step—which is often overlooked—involves advance planning. Look over your upcoming week and schedule when you will give time and energy to each of your big rocks. Remember, what gets scheduled tends to get done.

Finally, rely on God’s Spirit to enable you to carry out your plans.

Even when you do all this, things still won’t go perfectly—we are all fallible people living in a fallen world. But you will have a greater sense you are living with purpose. And you will find that more big rocks make it into the jar of your life.

So what “big rocks” does the Lord want in your 2015 jar? A closer relationship with Christ? A deeper knowledge of His Word? Loving your spouse? Discipling your kids? Developing your ministry? Continuing your education? Witnessing to a friend who needs to know Jesus?

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Or to put it another way: Put the big rocks in first.

 

book_whats_best_next

For an excellent book providing both a theological foundation and practical advice on “big rock living”, pick up What’s Best Next by Matt Perman.   You’ll find the “big rocks” story in it—and a lot more.

 

 

 

 

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Do Not Be Afraid

“Do not be afraid.”do-not-be-afraid

Did you know that’s a Christmas phrase?

We don’t tend to think of “Do not be afraid” as a Christmas line. We think of phrases like: “Peace on earth, good will towards men.”  Or “Silent night, holy night.” or “Glory to God in the Highest.”

We don’t tend to associate “Do not be afraid” with Christmas. But we should. The phrase shows up three times in the account of Christ’s birth.   Each time it’s said by angels to  key players in the Christmas story.

It was said to Mary (Luke 1:30).  It was said to Joseph (Matthew 1:20).   It was said to shepherds on the Bethlehem hillsides (Luke 2:10).

Why did the angels keep saying “Do not be afraid”?   Partly because angels are imposing creatures, quite unlike the Disney and Hallmark versions we’re familiar with.  When angels showed up, even hardened soldiers fainted (Matthew 28:4).  The shepherds needed to hear “Do not be afraid” because they were terrified by the angel’s appearance.

But something else seems to be going on with Mary.  Luke’s account indicates that Mary was terrified, not just by the angel’s appearance to her, but by God’s assessment of her.  The angel startled her with the words, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).  Mary was troubled by that assessment:  she felt it was too lofty for a young peasant girl.  How could she possibly be “highly favoured”?  Surely the angel was talking to the wrong person!  The angel reassured her with the words, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God” (Luke 1:30).

If the shepherds were afraid of the angel’s appearance to them and Mary was afraid of God’s assessment of her, Joseph was frightened by God’s assignment for him.

Joseph had learned that Mary was expecting a child and he knew the child wasn’t his.  As he thought about how to break the engagement in a godly way, an angel appeared to him in a dream:  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

This Christmas, you may find yourself feeling like the shepherds, Mary or Joseph.  You may be feeling God is has given an assignment to you that’s too hard, based on an assessment of you that’s too high.  Like Joseph, your assignment could have to do with your marriage.  Like Mary, it could have to do with a child.  Whatever it is, it has you feeling uncertain and troubled.

So this Christmas, you need to hear the message of the angels once again:  “Do not be afraid.”

The message of the angels calls us to move from fear to faith.  Faith in the glorious truth that Christ the Saviour has come. God is with us.  Emmanuel.

Mary trusted in the Lord and moved from fear to faith.  Joseph did too. By God’s grace, we can too!

christmasSeveral years back, at a time when we were both feeling afraid of an assignment God had for us, this song by Carolyn Arrends was music to our souls.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

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Becoming an “Open Bible” Church

bibleOver the past few weeks, I’ve written about the need to help people engage with the Bible. I’ll finish off this short series with a third way pastors and church leaders can help people engage with God’s Word. (You can read the previous suggestions here and here)

In my role at Heritage, I travel to speak at a different church most every weekend. One disheartening trend I’ve noticed is the fact that so few people are looking at their own copy of the Scriptures (printed or electronic) while I’m preaching.

In some cases, the reason for the lack of open Bibles is that we’ve unintentionally discipled people not to bring a Bible to church. We’ve trained people not to bring a Bible to church by displaying the sermon passage on the screen. Why open a Bible when it’s projected on the big screen? We’ve also taught people that Bibles are optional by preaching sermons that are only marginally tied to Scripture. Why open a Bible when it’s not being examined or exposited?

Retraining our people to bring and open their Bibles at church will take some intentionality. Here are several ways pastors can work to develop an “open Bible” culture in their congregations.

First, be wise in the Scripture you choose to project on the screens or print in the bulletin.Screen 2 Do project the verses you select for the public reading of Scripture – a necessity in this day of multiple translations. Don’t put the main Scripture text for the sermon on the big screen. Instead, display only the correlative verses that are mentioned during the message.

Second, make Bibles available to those who don’t have one when they arrive at church. Encourage people to open to the passage for the message by telling them the page number in the Bibles you’ve provided. This will help the uninitiated find the passage without feeling foolish and will emphasize your desire to have Bibles open during the message.

Third, repeatedly refer to the text of Scripture during your sermon. Say, “Look with me again at what it says in verse 16” or “Did you notice the phrase Paul uses in verse 5?” Keep pointing people to the text to highlight that open Bibles are essential to get the most out of the message. John Piper’s words to young preachers are ones all preachers need to hear:

My continual advice to beginning preachers is, “Quote the text! Quote the text!’” Say the actual words of the text again and again. Show the people where your ideas are coming from.’ Most people do not easily follow the connections a preacher sees between his words and the text. They must be shown again and again with actual quotes from Scripture (The Supremacy of God in Preaching, p. 86).

If we want people to open their Bibles at home during the week, we can start by getting them to open them on Sundays at church.

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Let the Lion Out!

We’re considering ways pastors and church leaders can help people meaningfully re-engage with the Bible. We’ve already looked at the first and most basic way:  Model engagement with the Bible.  Here’s a second way:

  1. Preach with Confidence in the Bible

One of the key findings of the Bible Engagement Study was the clear correlation between confidence in the Bible and connection with the Bible. Only those who “strongly agreed that the Bible was God’s Word” were regularly engaged with Scripture.

For those of us who are pastors, our first reaction to this finding may be to preach a sermon on the inspiration and authority of Scripture. While there is certainly a place for a sermon, or even a series of sermons, that provides credible reasons to trust the Bible as God’s Word, one sermon or sermon series won’t win the day.

A more systemic solution is to make sure that every sermon, and every series, is an apologetic for the authority of the Bible. This happens as our sermons evidence the same deep-level confidence in Scripture that characterized Jesus. In the gospels we repeatedly hear Jesus affirming the authority and reliability of God’s Word: “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35); “the Scriptures must be fulfilled” (Mark 14:49); “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus relied upon, referred to and rejoiced in Scriptures.

Pastors can build confidence in the Scriptures in their congregations by evidencing a confidence in the Scriptures in their sermons. Preachers who base their words on God’s Word and bend their thoughts to His truth are providing an ongoing apologetic for the authority of the Bible—even when they are not directly addressing the topic of the Bible’s authority.

Charles Spurgeon, who was well aware of the attacks on the Bible in his day, encouraged preachers to confidently proclaim the message of Scripture and let the Bible defend itself. 

lionA great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them . . . that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best “apology” for the gospel is to let the gospel out. Never mind about defending Deuteronomy or the whole of the Pentateuch; preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. Let the Lion out, and see who will dare to approach him. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will soon drive away all his adversaries.

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Re-engaging with the Bible

up arrowHaving highlighted the downward trend towards greater disengagement with the Bible, it’s time to consider what can be done to turn things around. Like all spiritual transformations, a change for the better will ultimately be a work of God’s Spirit. But God’s Spirit often works through God’s people to accomplish His will.

In upcoming posts, I’ll highlights several ways pastors and other church leaders can cooperate with God’s Spirit to encourage a greater engagement with God’s Word.  Here’s the first and most basic way:

  1. Model engagement with the Bible

“You cannot impart what you do not possess.” That’s a saying I heard repeatedly from Dr. Howard Hendricks during my seminary days. He was reminding us that our pastoral impact is linked to our personal example.

Increasing Bible engagement in our congregation begins by modeling it in our own lives. In our hallway conversations, counseling appointments, board meetings, prayers and sermons, it should be apparent that we are personally and presently engaged with the Bible—reading it, meditating on it, delighting in it and responding to it. It should be obvious that we share David’s delight in Scripture: “How I love your law. I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97). It must be clear that we are seeking to align our personal convictions and ministry decisions with the teaching of God’s Word.

I’m not advocating an ostentatious attempt to impress people with our Bible knowledge. Rather, we should marinate in Scripture until it naturally permeates and flavours all we say and do.

Bunyan

John Bunyan

A pastoral example of this kind of deep engagement with Scripture is John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. Charles Spurgeon had this to say about Bunyan: “Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere; his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.”

Here a question to ask yourself:  Would the people who know me best say my “very soul is full of the Word of God”?

If we hope to call others to engage with Scripture, it must be evident that we are enthusiastically leading the way.

 

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