Ten Questions for a New Year

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Dec 292019

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:   Ten Questions for a New Year Article by Don Whitney Professor, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.

Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai: “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5). He urged them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.

Ten Questions

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. A great time for us to “Consider our ways.” To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

1. What’s one thing you can do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

Our enjoyment of God comes primarily through the means of grace he has given us. He has promised to bless us most directly and consistently through means such as his word, prayer, and the church. One specific suggestion I’d offer would be to include some meditation on Scripture along with your daily reading. It’s better to read less — if necessary — and yet as the result of meditation remember something, than to read more and remember nothing.

2. What’s an impossible prayer you can pray?

There are more than a dozen “but God” statements in Scripture, such as in Romans 5:8, which reads, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Situations that were humanly impossible were transformed by “but God” (Ephesians 2:1–7). What’s a “but God” prayer you can pray for the coming year?

3. What’s the most important thing you could do to improve your family life?

If your family doesn’t practice family worship, beginning there is the single best recommendation I could make. Just ten minutes a day, simply reading the Bible, praying, and singing together — an event that requires no preparation — is all it takes. My little book titled Family Worship can tell you more.

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year?

Would it be a personal spiritual discipline (that is, one you practice alone), or an interpersonal spiritual discipline (one you practice with other believers)? Once you decide, determine the next step to take and when you will take it.

5. What’s the single biggest time-waster in your life, and how can you redeem the time?

Social media? TV? Video games? Sports? Hobbies? It’s easy for any of these (or something else) to take too much of our hearts and time. Is repentance required? Trying to stop, by itself, is probably not the answer. Actively replacing it with something better helps us in “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

6. What’s the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

While we often stress the fact that individual believers are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15), the New Testament actually says seven times to one that the church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23). We mustn’t let our frequent emphasis on our personal relationship with Christ minimize the importance of our service to Jesus through his body. How can your church be stronger this year because of you? Serving? Giving? Praying?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

Praying frequently and fervently for someone’s salvation makes us more sensitive to opportunities to share the gospel with him or her. Will you commit to praying for at least one person’s salvation every day this new year?

8. What’s the most important way, by God’s grace, you will try to make this year different from last?

Obviously, God’s sovereignty rules over all things, and there is nothing we can do about much that he brings into our lives. On the other hand, under his sovereignty he gives us a measure of responsibility over many areas of life. In which of these would you most like to see a change from last year? You may find that your answer to this question is found in one of your answers above. To which of them do you sense the Holy Spirit calling your attention most urgently?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

For many, it might be as simple as designating a time exclusively for prayer instead of praying only “on the go” types of prayers. For others, it might be learning the simple, biblical practice of praying the Bible.

10. What single thing can you plan to do this year that will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

Short-term deadlines tend to dominate our attention. Busyness and fatigue often limit our vision to just getting through today. But don’t let the tyranny of the urgent distract you from something you’re neglecting that would have enormous long-term impact on your soul, your family, or your church.

Consider Your New Year

The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by making a goal to encourage one person in particular this year is more likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t set that goal. If you’ve found these questions helpful, you might want to put them someplace — on your phone, computer, calendar, or wherever you put reminders — where you can review them frequently.

I hope this article will help you to “consider your ways,” to make plans and goals, and to live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering the principle that “the plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance” (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things, let’s also remember our dependence on our King, who said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Don Whitney is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is the author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and Praying the Bible. His website is biblicalspirituality.org. 8.9K

 Posted by at 2:35 pm

“The Monster At the Manger”

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Dec 222019

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The Monster At the Manger”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  Our January Bible Study for 2020 is the Book of Jeremiah. We have a lot of favorite verses in Jeremiah. One of the first ones is Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in thye womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart, I appointed you as a prophet to the nations!”; Jeremiah 6:16 “This is what the LORD says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask for the good way, and walk in it, you will find rest for your souls’ ” ;Jeremiah 17:7-8 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. They shall be like a tree planted by the water, that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear heat when it comes; it leaves are always green, it has no worries in the year of drought, and never fails to bear fruit”. Of course, those two verses are followed by a very piercing one! Jeremiah 17: 9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it? We love Jeremiah 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you, and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future!” That is true because of what the Lord says in 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with my unfailing kindness.” An Evangelist friend of mine, Ed F. Vallowe always signed his name with Jeremiah 33:3 “Call unto me and I will answer and show you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” But no one seems to ever quote Jeremiah 31:15 “Thus saith the LORD, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, a lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are no more!” Fleming Rutledge reminds us that “Advent began with great darkness”, and in her sermon she reminds us that even that first Christmas, “there was a Monster at the manger”. It seems that a Pastor that she knew was putting out the figures of the family nativity on the coffee table in the living room, near the Christmas tree. His 4-year-old, interested in what was going on, was right there watching each figure as it was being put in place. Each time he asked, “who is that Dad?” After they were all in place, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, The Wise Men, the Shepherds, the animals. All in place. The youngster couldn’t resist adding one more figure- (he was fascinated with dinosaurs, as most his age are), so he placed in the midst of the holy characters, his larger tyrannosaurus rex! As he did, he said, “Dad look, there’s a Monster in the Manger!” Rutledge reminds us that when the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, seeking the Born King of the Jews, there was a Monster, King Herod, who wanted to follow them to Bethlehem, to destroy the Baby Jesus, before He even had his beginning to “save His people from their sins!” He was a monster at the manger! Jeremiah’s prophecy predicted an event that would accompany the Birth of Jesus. Herod, the brutal maniac that he was ordered all the male babies two years old, and younger to be slaughtered. Herod was indeed a monster. He killed his beloved wife Mariamne; he killed three of his own sons, because of his paranoia; Caesar Augustus said, “Better to be Herod’s sow, than his son!” You would stand a better chance of staying alive! Make no mistake about it-there was a greater Monster behind the horrible act of Herod. His name was Satan. As he moved Pharaoh to destroy the male children, to destroy Moses, he stirred the evil heart of Herod, to cause history to repeat itself. In the midst of all the rejoicing of the Christmas season, we need to remember there was remorse as well. Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil”. The devil knew he must strike first. But as always, he has visions of grandeur, but cannot ever defeat God, or His Christ! So even in the early Christmas narrative we are shown that as Satan strikes out to “steal, kill, and destroy” that God has His counter-moves to defeat and destroy the “monster at the manger!”

As Hal Lindsey wrote in his book, Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, that is still true in 2019 as it was in 1972. Maybe more so! But Christmas is a reminder that his days are numbered. Jesus was saved when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt. When Jesus comes again, Satan will have no where to flee! Even so come Lord Jesus.

 Posted by at 3:45 pm

A Christmas essay: What the world needs now

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Dec 152019

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: A Christmas essay: What the world needs now DECEMBER 11, 2019 BY ERIC REED

Tourists packing into the tiny mausoleum at Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy must be disappointed at first. Billed as the most spectacular and best-preserved mosaic in Christendom, the ceiling depicts Jesus surrounded by sheep in a green pasture. Travel guides and academics alike hail its artistic beauty. The mosaic was commissioned by a Roman emperor for his sister’s burial place 1,500 years ago, so you can imagine no expense was spared. But tourists packed into the space block the narrow windows, and it’s almost impossible to see the mosaic. Straining into the darkness as their disappointment sinks in, the pilgrims are suddenly blinded by brilliant light and rich colors of the pastoral scene dazzle their senses. Someone has dropped 300 lira into the coin box; the spotlights have popped on. Their eyes dart about seeking where to focus—sky, star, sheep, Jesus—for a few seconds. Then darkness again, deeper than ever.

A coworker of mine at a pastor’s magazine included a version of that story in a preaching article a dozen years ago. I have thought of it on occasion, usually after a midnight toe-stubbing in a pitch-black room. If only someone would drop in another 300 lira and rescue me from this darkness.

I’ve had the same thought about the world in recent years—politically and culturally. The postmodern era is proving to be no great enlightenment. Headlines on the news feeds serve mostly to prompt head shakes and tongue clucks, and the wonder, Can it get any worse?

At times, what Paul called “this present darkness” in the first century seems to be just as present in the twenty-first. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

Some days it seems not a lot has changed since then. And we could go back further.

Long before Jesus’ birth, the Egyptians and the peoples living in Canaan sought to explain the physical world with a troop of gods each responsible for an aspect or two of nature and the weather, but their gods proved to be angry failures unable to control even their own supposed creation, or to alleviate their subjects’ suffering in cycles of flood and drought, plague and destruction.

Rather than seek out the true God who truly is over all, they turned to other gods and more gods. The gods multiplied and specialized under the Greeks and later the Romans, but the panoply did not brighten the heavens and mountain tops where they lived. Theirs was endless revelry celebrating their most wicked natures, blind to their own debauched state. In the time leading up to Jesus, the strict religion of the Jews served to show the complete depravity of humanity and the ultimate inability of man to assuage the due wrath of Deity or to atone for man’s own iniquity. The Law existed to prove we are unable keep the Law.

It was a dark time.

In some way, darkness has characterized every age, beginning with creation when darkness was over the face of the deep. The Dark Ages, so named in retrospect, saw the retreat of religion and the near death of knowledge in the Western world. The Middle Ages were little better, except that their failures were better catalogued. The Renaissance promised advance, but The Enlightenment served mostly to question faith more than bolster it. And the accomplishments of mankind became the impetus for many to celebrate themselves, rather than the God who made it all possible.

Great cathedrals were built with purgatory payments, and empires were borne on the backs of poverty. Louis XIV declared himself Sol, the Sun God. There were few courageous enough to refute it, except from the blackness of their solitary cells. The Huguenots, like the Puritans, were persecuted in their time for bearing the gospel truth and shedding its light on the evils of their society and religious hierarchy. (Sol, indeed.)

Even the modern era, which was supposed to bring truth to light and lasting peace to man’s war with himself and with others, has instead produced civil wars, world wars, cold war, culture war, drug war, genocide, infanticide, and ISIS. The world seems dark—even now.

In fact, scientists have discovered a galactic darkness so dark that it feeds on light. Black holes in remotest space so deep that their depth cannot be fathomed. Black holes without bottoms.

But into this cosmos, Jesus still declares, “I am the light of the world.”

It is a cosmic reality so profound, so deep, so universe altering, that even our brightest minds can hardly grasp it. Many can’t.

What light is capable of breaking through dark matter, dark minds, dark hearts, dark sin, dark failure? What light is there that cannot be overcome by these great and terrible darknesses?

Only the light of Christ.


   Here I am

“Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness…” the popular worship song says. And lit it up, we could add. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). This is a bold statement coming from John in the first century. The light was victorious, triumphant, undefeated. Some translations say the darkness did not “comprehend” the light, and certainly that is true. C.S. Lewis borrowed an allegory from Plato and used it to explain a Christian truth. He tells of people who lived in a cave. All they knew of reality was shadows on the wall cast by a light source behind them. It was a campfire in Plato’s version, and these people were confined to chairs since childhood, not allowed look around or behind them. What they saw were only hints of what was out there. Confined to this darkened cave, they had no way to measure whether what they imagined might be true. Shadows were all they knew.

That is man in his unregenerate state, seeing only shadows of the truth, unable to determine what is reality. And the same may be said of the whole world before the advent of Christ. To a culture bumbling along with its multiplicity of angry, failing, self-absorbed deities, Yahweh sent a word of hope—many prophecies, in fact—glimpses of a brighter future.

Isaiah’s prognosis sums it up well:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness” (Isaiah 9:2).

Did the shepherds on a hillside outside Bethlehem know their Scriptures well enough to understand that Isaiah’s prophecy was happening to them when an angel praise band fractured an inky sky and made their holy declaration? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 KJV).

We often hear that shepherds were the lowest rank in their society, but many Jewish boys went to Hebrew school (or, as they called it, school). Maybe one among them knew the prophecy from 700 years earlier that connected God’s promised One to light itself. But whether or not they comprehended it at that moment, they witnessed the cosmic miracle. “The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

The Messianic prophecy was all about light, and the announcement was made in heavenly light. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

With that contemporary songwriter mentioned earlier, we would say, “Open my eyes, let me see.”


Brilliant guidance system

British composer Tim Hughes says he was praying over a few verses of Philippians 2 when the stanzas to “Here I Am to Worship” came to him rather quickly. But then the writing stopped. He asked himself what his response should be to this incredible, selfless act on the part of Jesus. He left the glory of heaven, all rightly his own, to bring his light to earth. Surely there must be a chorus for this song.

Six months later Hughes returned to the verses with an answer: “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down…” And we sing it in many churches on many Sundays. Hughes’s popular song has stayed in the top twenty worship songs for going on twenty years.

The Magi beat Hughes to the answer 2,000 years earlier.

Following the star a great distance, they arrived in a tiny nowhere town and discovered the birthplace of the Savior well marked from above. The Psalmist had promised that the word of God would light the path of the pilgrim like a lamp on a roadway (Psalm 119:105). In their case, these wise seekers found not a proverb in general, but a promise in specific that the Messiah would be coming into the world. Herod’s own wise men unwittingly told the travelers where, and starlight took them there.

Their response? Life-changing worship.

Matthew reports because of their concern for Herod’s intentions, they went home “a different way.” We might say Matthew was giving a GPS summary, that the Magi avoided Jerusalem on the return trip, but anyone who has seen the Light and worshipped him can say they also have left the worship experience personally different.

 Posted by at 3:49 pm

“Mastering the Hardest Arithmetic-Counting Our Blessings!”

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Dec 012019

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Mastering the Hardest Arithmetic-Counting Our Blessings!”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  This past week was Thanksgiving week. Eric Hoffer says it is the time to “master the hardest arithmetic-counting our blessings!” G.K. Chesterton said, “I would maintain that thanks is the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder”. He also said, “Everything should be received with gratitude, and passed on with Grace.” JFK made sure we understand that thanksgiving is more than words. He said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them”. He thought thanksgiving should be translated into thanksliving! John Wannamaker says that thanksgiving is a process. “It begins with a feeling in the heart; expressed in words; results in giving in return”. Cicero said, “Gratitude is the greatest of all virtues-and the parent of all others”. Robert Louis Stevenson warned-“The person who has stopped being thankful has fallen asleep in life”. Shakespeare was even more convicting-“Blow, blow, blow winter wind, thou are not so unkind as man’s ingratitude!” William Ward reminded us that “God gave 86,400 seconds today. Have you used ONE to say thank you?” He also said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it”. Gratitude is not to just concern what we get but what we don’t get! Storm Jameson, in Journey from the North, I have received may the Lord make me thankful. And more truly…thankful for what I have NOT received!” There is an old proverb that says, “He who will not thank for the little things will not thank for much either.” “When we have forgotten the language of thankfulness, we are no longer on speaking terms with happiness.” One of the best thanksgiving messages I ever heard was a sermon by a Seventh Day Evangelist named George Vandeman. It was called “I wonder how to thank Him”. He said, “Nothing can have a more profound effect on your mental health than a spirit of thankfulness”. We can always find things to be grateful for and to give thanks for even in difficult times. H.U. Westermeyer reminds us-“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts that first Thanksgiving-no Americans have been more impoverished, yet set aside a Day of Thanksgiving”. Thomas Aquinas gets to the heart of the matter when he instructs us that “God has no need of our worship. (He loves our devotion and worship-but has no inherent need of anything!) It is us who need to show gratitude for what we have received”.

Probably the most insightful thing I have ever read about Thanksgiving and Praise is something C.S. Lewis said in his book Reflections on the Psalms. He wrote: “I struggled with the idea that God demands our praise and commands us to give Him glory. For years this was a stumbling block to me! Then I seemed to see its purpose. The most obvious fact about praise-whether of God or anything-strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or giving honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless-shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought into check it. the world rings with praise-lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite games-praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians, or even scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised the least…Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it. ‘Isn’t it lovely? Wasn’t is glorious? Don’t you think that is magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable One, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else of value. We delight to praise…because praise not only expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed…If it were possible for a created soul fully to appreciate, that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude…the Confession says, ‘man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him. Living in Praise is something we need more than God needs. It completes us…and glorifies Him. Praise Him! Praise Him! Happy Sacrifices of Thanksgiving.

 Posted by at 2:01 pm