Friday, August 26, 2011

Plenary Session #1, When Sinners Say I Do; Sin

Tonight started the main conference, Families Shaped by Grace, where we heard Dave Harvey author of When Sinners say I do.

In the first plenary session Harvey discussed the topic of sin in marriage. He covered 1 Timothy 1:12–17 where Paul discusses his sin, and how the gospel applies to life. To start out with Harvey quoted Thomas Watson “Till sin be bitter Christ will not be sweet.” This set the tone for the rest of the session.

Harvey discussed four links between Paul’s story and ours.
  1. Our biggest problem is ourselves
  2. Our highest status comes from God and not others
  3. Our greatest hinderance is our confident morality
  4. Our loudest praise targets God’s astounding grace
Throughout his talk Harvey uncovered the sinfulness of our sin, and the glories of God’s grace. He then tied this into the two topics: Forgiveness and Worship. On the topic of Forgiveness he took us to Matthew 18 and the parable of the unforgiving servant. Harvey unpacked how those who have been forgiven so much seek to forgive others.

When we see our sin for how bad it is, it will warm our hearts to others and will break down the pride that so easily creeps in and destroys our relationships. But if we are confident in our morality we will “replace God as judge with ourselves”. To this Harvey quoted Jerry Bridges, “Human morality, not flagrant sin, is the greatest obstacle to the gospel today.” If we think we are good enough and that our sin is not really all that bad we will not see how much we have been forgiven, we will never recognize Christ’s work for what it truly is.

Harvey then tied it beautifully to worship. He modified the quote from Watson to say, “When sin becomes bitter Christ becomes sweet and worship becomes real”. A heart that understands forgiveness will desire to worship the God that saved it. This is the point of 1 Timothy 1:17, as Harvey pointed out vv. 15–16 are the lead in to v 17, “the reminder of who we were and still are draws us to worship”.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reflections on a week of VBS

Here at NCPC we just finished up Vacation Bible School (VBS), and I want to put together some of my thoughts on the week. I will try to unpack why we put on VBS, and then look at what I learned from it. I will not try to put together a theological justification for, nor argue the merits of VBS, but will try to give some of my thoughts on the nature of our ministry during VBS.

But before I begin to explore these topics, I want to say that this last week was so much fun! I taught the second grade class, and was blessed to have these children under my care for the entire week. I had time to share the gospel, as well as share God’s hope in the midst of life’s struggles with them. This week was truly a blessing, and I want to thank the parents and kids for allowing me to be a part of their lives.

So with that said, I will discuss two topics: “Why we put on VBS?” and “What I learned from VBS.” I hope that you will find this encouraging, and challenging as you examine your participation in VBS, as well as our children’s ministry.

Why do we put on VBS?

I think we put on VBS for two reasons: Teach Christ in both word and deed, as well as to Build a bridge for the gospel.
  • Teach Christ
The first reason that we put on VBS is to teach Christ. For the majority of these children hearing about Christ was “old hat”, but for some they have had no exposure to Christ or christianity beyond what they see on TV or their parents tell them. As a teacher I had two goals: the first was to introduce the kids to Christ, and the second was to show the kids Christ.

First, it was my main goal to tell the second graders about Christ. Not just who He was as a person, or His a moral example for our lives, but also what he has done for us. In other words, I wanted to tell them the good news of salvation. My desire was to connect these second graders to the realities of the cross, and the empty tomb. I found that this was one of the most difficult, and yet rewarding times of the week. Teaching the children about how we can be free from the condemnation, and power of sin through faith in Christ was amazing.

Second, it was my goal to show these children Christ through my actions. Although I am certain that I did not model Christ perfectly to these children (That’s an understatement!), I am sure that Christ uses broken vessels, like me, to minister His grace to these children. By taking the time to get to know these kids we are modeling what Christ has done for us. He became a man, and identified with our struggles/sufferings, and then provided us with the hope that through Him our sins can be forgiven. This is the hope of our salvation!

As we teach these children Christ through both our words, and our deeds we are fulfilling the command to spread the seed of God’s word in our community. Now we get the pleasure of praying for the Spirit to come, and cause growth unto salvation in these children’s lives.
  • Build a bridge for the gospel
During VBS parents drop their children off with us for a week of teaching, training, and fun. This gives us an incredible view into their lives, and also provides us with an opportunity to build a bridge for the gospel into their lives. What do I mean by “build a bridge”? When I talk about “building a bridge” I am talking about providing the context within which inter-personnal ministry can take place.

Through the relationships we developed during VBS, we have  been able to build a bridge into these children’s lives. It is with these bridges that we are able to take the healing balm of the gospel, and apply it to the lives of these children. Through these interactions, God provided opportunities not only to speak into the child’s life, but also into the lives of the entire family.

What I learned?

Well sadly, I have to admit that at first my goals for working VBS were not the same as these stated goals. I taught VBS because I love children, and I knew that we needed a position filled. These two self-serving goals could not, and would not reach the goals that should be at the heart of a ministry like VBS.

But as the time grew nearer, and my prayers changed, I noticed my goals changed as well. This was where the transformation took place in my life. As God changed my heart to be less concerned with what I wanted to get out of VBS, and more concerned with what He wants from VBS, my joy in service grew. As my eyes shifted focus from building my kingdom, to building God’s kingdom, He was faithful to provide the opportunities for gospel work to be done.

For example, after the second day of VBS I was frustrated with myself, I reached the end of the day and realized that I had gone almost the entire day without giving these children a real, clear presentation of the gospel. As I spent that night preparing, and praying for the next day I asked God for forgiveness, and for the wisdom to give these children the gospel. God answered my prayers, for the majority of the next day’s class time it felt as though I did not have to even try to bring up the gospel, THE KIDS BROUGHT IT UP THEMSELVES! God was kind to bring about opportunities for me, and my helpers to share His wonderful grace with these kids.

As this week drew to a close I realized how blessed I was to be able to teach Christ, and build a bridge for the gospel with these children. I hope and pray that as you read this you will be encouraged to continue to pray for the children who attended VBS, their families, as well as our children’s ministry at NCPC.

Pray specifically that:
  1. God’s word would take root in these children’s hearts, and that this would produce salvation, or build them in their faith.
  2. God would raise up faithful teachers, and leaders not just for VBS but for our children’s ministry as well.
  3. Pray with thanksgiving for Barbara Smith, Donna Pipkin, and Kristen Johnson. Thank God for their faithful service in leading, and praying for us!
I hope that you will be challenged, and encouraged to join us next year as we have the opportunity to be used to tell and show these children Christ.

IBCD Summer Institute: Plenary Session 6 “A Family Surprised by Grace”

Milton Vincent, author of the book A Gospel Primer, preached to us concerning four facts about the gospel. He encouraged us that “Gospel will put fat on our bones in the best of ways.” Vincent recounted how he used to live in the grip of fear, but “as the fear of failure was removed, as the energy he spent worrying about his sin was no longer spent worrying, the energy to follow Christ came.”

These are the 4 facts that he preached on:
  • The Gospel is the power of God: Romans 1:16
  • The Gospel is for us Christian’s too: Romans 1:15–16; I Corinthians 1:18
  • The Gospel is the primary instrument God uses to enrich and transform us daily: Acts 20:32
  • There are some simple and delicious ways that we can unleash the power of the gospel in our lives.
    • 3 Truths
      • Stare at the gospel
      • Believe it
      • Feast on it
Vincent was so very encouraging in his reminders to continue in the grace and the power that comes at the foot of the cross.

IBCD Summer Institute: Plenary Session 5 “Gods Grace When Things Are Hard”

In the fifth plenary session we had the opportunity to hear from Jim Newheiser on a topic that he is intimately familiar with, suffering. Newheiser gave what Milton Vincent said was one of the top sermons he had ever heard on any topic, and I would agree.

Newheiser opened up James and showed us that “James helps us to see how we cannot waste our trials.” “You love your own comfort but He (God) wants you to be like Him. The greatest growth in our lives are through the times that we suffer the most.”

Newheiser showed us this in three succinct points from James 1:2–5:
  • When - You face trials
Newheiser pointed our that suffering is apart of the Christian life, it is not optional it is a fact of life. God does not deal with us in the way that we would like him to, he uses trials in the lives of his people to make us further into the image of Christ. 
  • Consider - God has worked in your trials
You must think properly about your trials. If you just let your brain go, you will end up wasting your suffering. But God can use your suffering to produce in you growth that you would not be able to produce on your own.
  • Ask - God for wisdom
There is no other time that you need wisdom more than during trials. We need to try and see our situation from Gods perspective and not our own. Newheiser reminded us to “Never loose sign of the goodness of God.”

IBCD Plenary Session 4: The quest for contentment

Tonight was the fourth and final plenary session for today and Dave Harvey helped us understand what the apostle Paul meant in Philippians 4:11–13 when he said “I have learned the secret to being content.”

Harvey asked the question, “How do you respond when you face an unfulfilled dream?” He pointed out that the real issue is how we respond to God when we don’t get what we want, when we want it.

One of the keys to contentment, according to Harvey, is summed up in a quote by Thomas Watson “If you have not what you desire, you have more than you deserve.” Harvey correctly pointed out that we think that because we have a goal that makes it God’s will, but we cannot fathom that he will deny us our dreams to get us where he wants us to go. “God is committed to our rescue not our success."

Harvey said, “At the heart of discontentment lies this conviction: I don’t have what I deserve. The heart of discontentment looks at others. But, the gospel tells us that we live infinitely above what we deserve. Contentment has to be something vertical and not horizontal. We get contentment by comparing what we have to what our sin deserves.”

This was one of my favorite sessions of the weekend as it drove home the amazing nature of what we receive in the gospel.

IBCD Summer Institute: Plenary Session 3 “Christ: Don’t start your family without Him”

In the third plenary session George Scipione (founder of IBCD) unpacked for us why we need Christ to be the center of our family. In this session, Christ: Don’t start your family without him, Scipione pointed us to the person and work of Christ to encourage us to walk in accordance with His commands.

Scipione encouraged us in two ways:
  • You need Christ as your mediator
If we do not point our counselee’s to Christ as our mediator, our counseling will devolve into nothing more than moralism. Scipione rightly pointed out that “Apart from the power of God (through Christ) we will get no where. Without humility we will be trying in a fleshly way to convince your flesh to do spiritual things.”

Our job as counselors and as Christians is to ‘introduce people to the person Jesus Christ and then get out of the way. The truth of the gospel is personnel, “I am the way the truth and the life”’

  • You need Christ as your model
Scipione said, “If you appreciate Jesus you should want to be like him”. He pointed to Hebrews 12:1–6 where as he stated it “Looking to Jesus” is the lynchpin to this text. As we “have one eye on the problem” we must keep “one eye on Jesus” our example, and “the Holy Spirit will give you the wisdom to apply it.”

So how does this apply to our family life? We must introduce our families to Christ the person who took on flesh, obeyed, died, and was raised again to intercede for us both as our mediator and as our model.

IBCD Summer Institute: Plenary Session 2 “When Sinners Say I Do: Mercy”

This marks the start of the second day of the IBCD Summer Institute, Families Shaped by Grace, and what can I say? I have been encouraged to infuse my family life with grace, challenged to see my sin for what it is, and been given the tools to counsel others (and myself) through Dark Providence.

This morning, Dave Harvey spoke on the topic of Mercy in marriage. He opened up for us Luke 6:27–36 and showed that “What it really means to follow the savior is to love your enemies.” He skillfully showed us how we are God’s enemies and yet He showed us mercy in sending His son to reconcile us to himself.

Harvey showed us what shaping family life in light of Mercy looks like:
  1. Mercy is Kindness
  2. Mercy in Covering
  3. Mercy for Weakness
Some memorable points from this session were:
  • In the cross, weakness becomes a place of mercy and forbearance.
  • Patience from God does not terminate on us, it is for us to pass along.
  • Of confrontation Harvey said, Mercy looks for patterns and offers observations not conclusions. Our intent is to connect a fellow sinner with their savior.
I have been so encouraged by these talks.

IBCD Summer Institute: Pre-Conferece Give them Grace Sessions 3 & 4

In the afternoon sessions, we are spending more time reflecting on how the gospel applies to our parenting. Fitzpatrick and Thompson started out by telling us that our usual formula, good parenting in good kids out, is not a biblical idea.

The third session, “Salvation is of the Lord”, encouraged us that our children’s salvation doesn’t depend on how good our parenting is. This is such a beautiful and encouraging thought. Here are a couple of great quotes by Fitzpatrick, “We were never meant to carry the responsibility for a human soul. Only the Good Shepherd is strong enough to bear the weight of a human soul.” “The Lord never encourages self-reliance, but rather faith in him.”

So what is your job? What should we do? They told us that we ought to:
  • Believe - in the promises of God
  • Trust that everything is already done - God is sovereign
  • Know that our good parenting is not a guarantee of our children’s salvation
  • Trust that Salvation is of the Lord
  • Pray - “The knowledge of God’s Father-love is the first and simplest, but also the last and highest lesson in the school of prayer.” - Andrew Murray
“Desperation creates praying parents.” Thompson reminded us that as we trust in Christ for the salvation of our children, we are driven in desperate prayer for them. But, as we pray our weak/sinful prayers, Fitzpatrick reminded us that “Our Savior purifies and transforms our prayer into petitions that please him, so pour your heart out freely to your Father.”

Session 4, covered Evidences of Grace in our children’s lives.

“Grace does not forbid giving directions, promises, corrections and warnings. only cruelty would forbid such help.” - Bryan Chappell

Thompson clearly stated that Grace disciplines, but Grace does not leave them there, Grace also points us to the realities of our new record and standing that we gain in Christ. The grace of God trains us, we don’t want to raise children who are rebellious, we want children who are zealous for the gospel. So how do we get them there? We train them in the context of grace and the gospel. Our problem is that we typically assume this context, so Thompson encouraged us to make grace the context of our families, and this will help to lead to contentment.

Thompson then encouraged us to “parent for the glory of God not for our own glory. God’s methods turn everything we assume about his glory upside down. We are to boast in our strong savior who uses our weak parenting, so we can be content for the sake of Christ”. Our pray must be to that God “Glorify His name” in our lives and in our children’s lives.

We must remind ourselves that our identity is not wrapped up in how good of a parent we are or how well our children end up. Fitzpatrick puts it succinctly when she said, “We are beloved Children of God”. This flows into our parenting as we remind ourselves and children that without the work of Christ in our lives we would be lost sinners. So because we are in Christ we are “Humble partners (with our children) in grace”.

As I sat through these sessions on parenting I have been encouraged with the realities of God’s grace in my life, and I have been confronted in the areas where I have parented according to law. I have been encouraged to pray for my children and to “dazzle” them with God’s grace. Thank God that he has poured out his grace in my life!

IBCD Summer Institute: Pre-Conferece Give them Grace Sessions 1 & 2

Today, the IBCD Summer Institute, “Families Shaped by Grace,” commenced, featuring speakers such as Dave Harvey, Milton Vincent, and Elyse Fitzpatrick.

This morning was the Women’s Pre-Conference, entitled “Give them Grace,” with Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, a mother and daughter team who wrote a book by the same name on the topic of parenting. The first two sessions covered this morning provided a helpful reminder of the Gospel, and how it applies to our parenting. In addition, they offered several practical steps for helping us teach the Gospel to our children.

To begin, they reminded us that we cannot give something (i.e., the Gospel) to our children that we do not know and believe. Fitzpatrick and Thompson defined the Gospel as all that Christ has done, and does, on behalf of his people. They rightly put an emphasis on Christ’s accomplishments rather than our own. They also reminded us of the realities that this wonderful good news has created, especially with respect to our identities in Christ.

All too often we teach and expect our children to keep the law perfectly, and teach them that this will “make God happy with you”. But what Fitzpatrick and Thompson reminded us is that neither we, nor our children, can keep the law perfectly. To expect them to do so produces regrettable results. If our children are wired like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), then to encourage perfect obedience is to turn them into Pharisees. If they’re like the younger brother, then the expectation will put a burden on them that will eventually crush them and turn them to rebellion. Instead, we must point our children back to the truth that their works will never save them–it is only Christ and His work that will save them.

Now, you must be saying to yourself, “What about the law? Do I not give my children rules?” Fitzpatrick and Thompson answered an emphatic YES. We are to give them rules, but we must remember that its purpose is not to make them worthy. In their words, the law serves, “not to make them good”, but “to bring them to Christ” and “to show them what gospel-engendered gratitude looks like.”

So what do we do? In short, Fitzpatrick and Thompson recommended the following:

  • Don’t lie to your children–their good works do not gain them salvation
  • Don’t feed the legalist within them
  • Train them to take refuge in Christ alone

Finally, the duo closed by reminding us–over and against our own self-righteous tendencies–that there is only “One good Father [and] one good Son. Taste and see that the Lord is good.” In other words, God is the only truly good parent, and Christ was the only truly good Son, and only after we rest in our salvation can we parent out of grace.

That’s it for now. I’m looking forward to the afternoon sessions: “Salvation is of the Lord,” and “Evidences of Grace.”

Book Review: But God… The two words at the heart of the gospel

“May I put it quite simply? If you understand those to words-’but God’-they will save you soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.”- James Montgomery Boice

But God… The two words at the heart of the Gospel a new book from Cruciform Press is a helpful book to reformed theologians of all stripe’s. If you are just starting to investigate reformed theology, than this book will be of great help in identifying and meditating on the times that God moved in history to bring about salvation for his people. If you are a seasoned veteran of reformed theology, than this short book will help to remind you of the saving hand of God as he preserved a people for himself.

At 103 pages and 11 Chapters (Including the introduction which is well worth reading), Casey Lute has compiled 9 stories of Gods preservation of his people. Lute’s writing style is very readable and he refrains from using too much christianeze that tends to confuse the begining theological reader.

In But God… Lute explores the realities how God caries out his salvation plan for his creation. This is vital for christians to continue to remind themselves, as these two words show us the character of our God. It is also helpful in the midst of our suffering as these two words comfort us, reminding us that God is faithful to his people. Although Lute does not cover every “But God” statement, and he takes some liberty in using other statements that do not exactly say “But God”, he gets to the heart of the gospel, we are sinners in need of grace on the path to hell. But God steps in to preserve his people, send his son, Jesus, to save for himself people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Here is a list of the chapters in the book:
Introduction - Do Not Skip This!  The introduction of the book sets the stage for the entire book
  1. God Preserves Humanity - Genesis 8:1 Noah
  2. God Creates a Nation - Exodus 13:18 The Red Sea
  3. God Preserves His Nation - Nehemiah 9:17 Israel the God-Fighter
  4. God Provides a Better Sacrifice - Psalm 40:6 - 8 The Incarnation
  5. God Demonstrates His Love for His People - Romans 5:8 The Cross
  6. God Raises Jesus from the Dead - Acts 13:30 The Resurrection
  7. God Chooses the Foolish and the Weak - 1 Corinthians 1:27 Election
  8. God Brings Life Out of Death - Ephesians 2:4 Salvation
  9. God’s Firm Foundation Stands - 2 Timothy 2:19 Perseverance
  10. Final Thoughts
At the inexpensive price of $8.45 this book is well worth the money.

On another note Cruciform press is doing a very interesting thing. They are offering a subscription to their publishing business. Every month you pay $6.99 and you get a new book in the mail.

Click here to find out more: