Thursday, January 28, 2010

Valley of Vision

I finally acquired the collection of Puritan prayers titled, The Valley of Vision. I had already enjoyed the CD from Sovereign Grace by the same title. Though I have read through most of the book quickly, I can tell that I really need to go through it a page at a time and study the deep theology and rich Scripture that went into each prayer. I highly recommend this book for its devotional value. Be warned that the Puritans lived a long time ago, so the language used can be a bit tough. But if you are not deterred by the language, you should be blessed by the well written prayers of people who obviously thought deeply about what they were saying to God. You might think it odd to read prayers, but I still challenge you to try it. I myself was a bit skeptical of the idea, but having begun to read, I've discovered tremendous value in what they wrote.

One thing that I have appreciated are the various ways that each prayer addresses God. For example, here are the titles for God used in the first line of each of the first five prayers:

Three in One, One in Three, God of my salvation
O God whose will conquers all
O Lord God, who inhabitest eternity
O Fountain of all good
My God

Here are just a couple of quotes to whet your appetite:

"May my desires be enlarged and my hopes emboldened,
that I may honor Thee by my entire dependency
and the greatness of my expectation." p. 116

"Teach me the happy art of attending to things temporal
with a mind intent on things eternal." p. 134

"oft-times spiritual comforts are at their highest
when physical well-being is at its lowest." p. 157

"if I do not live a life that satisfies thee,
I shall not live a life that will satisfy myself." p. 166

This book contains a lot of deep theological truth, and presents those truths in some flowery language. It might be difficult to read straight through, but most people should find tremendous blessing from reading one page a day and thinking about what they read.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kids Say the Darndest Things

It is apparent that my children are growing up in a slightly different culture from the one in which I was raised. I had to lead a memorial service on Saturday, so I mentioned that I was going to put on a suit. Becca immediately stated, "But Daddy, it's not snowing outside." I guess that a "snow suit" was the only type of suit she knows about. When Charissa found out that it wasn't a snow suit, she suggested that maybe I was going to change into my bathing suit. These kids clearly have had limited exposure to formal attire.

The other day my wife made a concoction for dinner that she calls "sloppy rice." It is the meat from sloppy joe sandwiches, but on a bed of rice instead of on hamburger rolls. When Charissa saw what we were having she exclaimed, "We're having slappy rice." I'm not sure when she has ever been slapped by rice, but she must have been pretty sure that it had happened.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Honoring volunteers

Most churches only exist because the people of the church do a lot of work to make sure that ministry takes place. Of course the paid staff does a lot of work, but without the volunteers, church as we know it would not happen. The dependency on volunteer ministry is a very good thing, as much as it requires churches to follow the Bible's plan for ministry in which "the saints" are equipped for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).

While volunteers do a lot of work, many of them don't get much recognition. It is the people who stand in the front of the church who are the most honored and recognized. But we are told in Romans 12 that we should give honor to whom honor is due. I believe that church workers are definitely worthy of honor. I intend to spend some time during our church service on the last Sunday in January to honor those who serve so selflessly.

I can think of many of the jobs that are accomplished by volunteers in our congregation. This list is not doubt similar to the jobs that are accomplished by volunteers in other congregations. Please look at the jobs I have remembered, and then post any other jobs that are accomplished by volunteers in your congregation. Thanks for your help. Here's my list:

Sunday School teachers
Nursery workers
Worship team members (instruments, singers, sound guys)
Oversight of rental property
Facility, grounds, maintenance
Finance Committee
Building Committee
Small group leaders (Bible study, prayer groups)
people who open their homes for small group
Pastor's wives who open their home for Sunday School classes
Meal organizers
Janitorial services/ those who clean the church
Food providers
Ministry organizers- Men's Ministry, Women's Ministry, Children's Ministry, Yard Sale, Pancake Breakfast outreach, Operation Christmas Child, Children's Christmas program, etc.
Drive people to church
Attendance counter/tracker
Visitor Info (welcome guests, ask them to fill out info, forward to pastor)
Making a new church Directory (address list and phone numbers)

I want to honor all who serve, but I don't want to miss anyone. Please help me!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I just came across this quote from an elderly theologian- R.C. Sproul:

"I'll retire when they pry my cold, dead fingers off of my Bible."

The statement made me smile. It also contains a very important nugget of truth- namely, that we should never stop serving God. We should not use excuses to avoid service. Our activity may decrease or change as we slow down, but the Christian life and local church involvement are not activities from which to dis-engage as we age.

Thank you, Dr. Sproul.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

I have actually visited Haiti. I preached my first sermon while on a missions trip to Haiti. A friend from college was the translator. His family has a great ministry in Haiti. They work through a church. They have a clinic. They start schools. I don't think that they were affected by the earthquake (based on the reports of where it hit), but I really don't know.

What can we do to help the victims of this incredible earthquake? As citizens of America, we can be glad that some of our tax dollars will probably end up helping this relief effort. As individuals and churches we can donate funds to organizations that are quickly mobilizing to help the relief effort (such as this one- ). But most important (and probably most obvious), as Christians we have the privilege and responsibility of praying to our sovereign God and asking Him to intervene powerfully in this situation. Most of us won't be able to go to Haiti to help. Most of us are unable to give large sums of money. But every follower of Jesus has the opportunity of making a difference through prayer. I encourage you to take a moment now to pray for the people of Haiti. And I encourage you to make the people of Haiti an ongoing request of your prayer time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mark McGwire

So the big news in baseball this week is that Mark McGwire finally admitted that he used steroids. Accusations and suspicions have surrounded him for a long time. Five years ago he was called to testify before Congress. Even though he showed up, he refused to comment on any use of steroids.

I suspect that McGwire's conscience had less to do with him coming clean than the fact that he was recently hired to be a hitting coach for the Cardinals. He knew that it would be bad to have to answer more questions and accusations throughout the baseball season. I also suspect that McGwire thinks that coming clean about steroid use will help him get into the Hall of Fame (by the way, that's probably not going to happen).

My view is that Mark McGwire is a self-centered, opportunistic cheater who is currently receiving far more grace and forgiveness than he deserves (a good thing, by the way). All of his actions appear to have been based on what was most advantageous to himself and those around him, rather than on what was right (or even legal). He took steroids in order to heal faster, stay healthy longer, and ultimately perform better on the field. This advantage no doubt helped his team win more games and earned him far more money and fame.

Once the steroid stage of his life was completed, the cover-up was about the same things. He stated that he desperately wanted to tell Congress about steroids, but he couldn't because they had not given him immunity. In other words, he was more concerned about the punishment than he was about the truth. He was more concerned for his own comfort, than for the the help that the truth would bring to other people. And even now in his "confession" he is still only looking out for himself. A revelation of the truth during the season would probably get him fired from his new job and would probably close the Hall of Fame to him forever. So he reveals as much of the truth as is convenient to him, but only when it is convenient to him.

While I believe that Mark McGwire is an egomaniac, I also believe that he is experiencing grace. Though he cheated and lied, he will be forgiven by the vast majority of sports fans. While he may never get into the Hall of Fame, it is unlikely that his stats and records will be stripped away from him. And though he was involved in illegal activity, he will not be prosecuted. So Mark McGwire ought to thank God ("the man upstairs" in his vernacular) for these blessings. And while he is at it, he would be best served if he would ask for even more grace. If he truly wants forgiveness for all of the things that he has done wrong, then he should seek that forgiveness through what Jesus has done on the cross. it is only through the cross that any of us will experience God's grace of the penalty of our sins being forgiven. That grace is far more important than avoiding jail or keeping a job. That grace is the ultimate answer to our search for true happiness.

I stated that McGwire is selfish. The truth is that he sought his own happiness in the wrong place. He sought his fulfillment by cheating his way to the top of his profession. But he now has the opportunity (along with the rest of us) to seek his ultimate happiness and fulfillment in the grace of God which will give him far more than he deserves. I hope he receives that grace.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Funny Kids

Not long ago my wife and I were awakened around 2:00 a.m. to the sound of someone standing in our doorway, possibly whimpering. Years ago, this might have been alarming. Before we had children, we certainly would have been shocked an alarmed to discover someone in our hallway in the middle of the night. Once our first couple of children became mobile, nocturnal wanderings have become less surprising. Now that we have five children-well, let's just say it takes something special to qualify as "new" to us. As a result, instead of being concerned, alarmed, or curious as to what is happening after we have gone to bed, we now are just irritated.

On this particular night I think I asked in a fairly gruff manner, "what do you want?" The voice that responded was from Charissa- our five year old daughter. She was close to tears when she responded, "I'm tired." "So go back to bed!" my wife and I almost bellowed in stereo. "Oh . . . okay" she answered- as if it had never crossed her mind that maybe just staying in bed could fix her tiredness problem.

Charissa happens to be the same child who brought me a picture of a couple baby deer yesterday and pointed out the animals. I asked her if she knew what kind of animals those were. She had no idea. You can tell that we no longer live in rural Pennsylvania. When Ty and Nicole were far younger than that, they knew all about deer. They were accustomed to having dead deer hang from their swing set while I skinned them (the deer, not the kids) and cut off the meat. They were accustomed to the neighbor's dog digging up the bones that hadn't been buried well enough and then leaving the bones all over our yard. They lived in a culture where the first day of deer hunting season was a holiday- the schools gave everyone the day off. At age three or four Ty was so used to that culture that when we went to town and entered the "mall" (yes, I use the quotes with purpose), upon seeing a Santa Clause display complete with reindeer his excited response was, "Look dad, a deer- bang, bang . . . bang, bang!"

Now I'm just hoping not to hear "bang, bang . . . bang, bang" (or anything else) at two in the morning.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Building Update

The Building Committee at Cottrell Corners Community Church continues to make progress toward a new church building. We are working with the engineer to get the proper paperwork showing that we have no wetlands on the property. The engineer is also making some back-up plans in case we need a smaller parking lot.

Our builder has given us a good price quote for putting up the building. Before we can confirm with him, we need to get our permits and financing. I will be setting up a meeting with our Township Planning Board in order to make sure that we are getting everything set up right for our permit application. John M. is working diligently to get our financing in order. There was a setback this week with our current bank on the financing front, but we hope to discover other options.

We are also hoping to have an architect look at our current chapel building and the basement of the house in order to provide us with some options for turning them into rental units. If we know what needs to be done, we can get prices. We will also be able to determine how much additional monthly income might be available through these avenues.

We continue to discuss solar panels. We are open to finding a company that leases rooftops and either pays for the space or provides us with free electricity in exchange for them using the roof. We might need to wait until the building is erected before we can move forward with solar panels.

A summary of the past year worth of progress will be provided immediately after our church gathering on Sunday, January 31.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wild Goose Chase

While "wild goose chase" is a familiar phrase to most people, it is also the title of a book by Mark Batterson. Oddly enough, he uses this title apart from the meaning of running around like crazy. Instead, he borrows a Celtic translation of a phrase that refers to the Holy Spirit, and uses "wild goose chase" to describe the activity of a Christian seeking the power of the Holy Spirit. Personally, I think he could have picked a better title since the only bird the Bible uses to describe the Holy Spirit is a dove.

The basic point of the book is that following God should be an adventure. The book provides six "cages" which keep us from seeking the true adventure that God has for us. Each "cage" receives a full chapter of treatment.

I was not terribly impressed with this offering from Batterson. He re-tells some stories from the Bible, but with quite a bit of interpretive lee-way. He does a good job of encouraging people to "be all you can be." He also has a talent for turning out good phrases and sentences. Here are some samples that I appreciated:

"I would rather fail at something I love than succeed at something I don't enjoy." p. 23

"When I fail to pray, the best I can do is the best I can do . . . But when I pray . . . The best I can do is the best God can do." pp. 85-86

"The grace of God is the difference between drowning in guilt and swimming in gratitude." p. 115

"Failure handled improperly can be devastating, but failure handled properly can be the best thing that can happen to us." p. 118

"But sometimes a closed door is the very thing that gets us where God wants us to go." p. 122

"sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is just hang in there." p. 138

This book is an easy and interesting read. It is more in the lines of a motivational book rather than anything else. I would have liked to have seen a stronger connection made with the gospel. I would have preferred him to take fewer "interpretive liberties" with the stories of the Bible. I would have suggested a completely different metaphor for the book. But I hope that God will indeed use what has been written to challenge people to be active in their life of faith.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First Book I Read in 2010

The first book I read in 2010 was A Multi-Site Church Road Trip. This book is a follow up book to The Multi-Site Church Revolution, written by the same authors- Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird. The first book introduced the concept of a "multi-site church" as one church that meets in multiple locations. This second book shows that this movement has grown considerably in America in just a couple of years. This book introduces readers to churches that have grown by expanding to an additional location. One of the most surprising statistics I discovered in this book was that the number of multi-site churches grew from approximately 300 in 2003 to around 3,000 in 2009. This is a trend which appears to be "coming to an area near you."

There are some people who have a theological opposition to the concept of a multi-site church. But John Piper points out (on page 202) that the Bible does not forbid or mandate this type of approach. He continues by saying that his congregation has chosen to follow this model because they believe it will give them greater long-term effectiveness.

I am in favor of churches taking advantage of whatever opportunity God provides to them for sharing the gospel to more people. While this strategy won't be used by every church, we can rejoice to the extent that more people have the opportunity to hear the life-changing message of Jesus.