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December 2010

December 26, 2010

You know that I like to go looking for prayers to post on Sunday (or even better, to pray on my own on Sundays). Here is one I came across a few days ago, one that shares the grief and bewilderment of a father’s heart as he ponders the imminent death of his son. It is a prayer that comes from a place of great pain, but one that also comes from a deep-rooted faith that God is good and that God does only what is good. It gives me hope that even in the midst of such pain, God would bolster my faith to trust in him.

Lord, you know my heart; you know everything about me.  It is early morning right now and on this morning, I need you so desperately.  You know I am in knots and anxious; you know I am not the strong one, but You are.  I need you to be my hiding place today; my shelter and the place where you hide me in the cleft of the rock when you pass by and show us your glory.  For today is something I am dreading beyond anything I have had to face.

Daddy, I’m weak.  I have nothing good I can give you; no reservoir of strength within me that would spark any sort of hope to get through what could possibly happen today.

Everything is from you; in you is my breathe, my being, my movement and my reality.  I must confess that though I have wanted to be as strong as others see me as, the very real reality is that I am frail and foolish; you are the strong One.  For you are my tower, my fortress, my rock that I cling to today.  I know in my weakness, in my poorness of spirit, in my emptiness of self you shine through and fill me.  Lord, it is YOU; all you that empowers us and gives us strength.  Let THAT testimony be shouted from the rooftops.  Our GOD IS FAITHFUL.  You have gotten me through yesterday, last week, last year and thus far in my life.  You have blessed others with your Spirit, your breathe, your strength and your comfort in their lifetimes and I trust that you are the same yesterday, today and forever.  You are indeed the Alpha and Omega of my life, and you INDEED created Samuel fearfully and WONDERFULLY in the womb of Kelly.  God, THIS is your truth!

Read More at Loth Blogs.

December 25, 2010

We were up at 7 this morning to get our Christmas started with stockings and gifts and a special breakfast and other family traditions. And a few hours later I’m sitting here at my computer, running back through Christmas posts from years past to see what I was doing on Christmas in 2009, 2008, 2007—I can go all the way back to 2003. Some years we’ve been at home while other years we’ve been celebrating an Atlanta or Chattanooga Christmas. No two years have quite been the same.

This year we are at home, though a little bit later on we’ll be driving to my in-laws place and doing a Christmas dinner there (roast lamb, if I heard it right). And that will be that—a fun, quiet, traditional family Christmas. I love it.

I find myself thinking this morning about the miracle of Emmanuel, the miracle of God being with us. It’s a shame that we could ever get used to such a thing—to something as amazing as God being with us, God coming to earth in human form. It’s an idea I don’t ever want to get so used to that it begins to lose its wonder.

And as I sit here I am listening to Sojurn sing this song, “God Is With Us.”

The glory of God has come to the earth,
The glory of God in our Savior’s birth,
Join with the angels to sing and proclaim
Glory to His name

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us now.

Eternity’s likeness has come into time,
A light in the darkness, now hope is alive,
Down from the heavens on this holy night,
Our God in a manger, our God as a child.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us now.

Oh, let us bring Him more than our silver and gold…

December 24, 2010

A couple of days ago I received an email from a young man who reads this site and he asked a rather simple question: How am I to react to sexual desire? As a teenager, unmarried and with marriage in the distant future rather than the near future, he wanted to know how God would have him understand sexual arousal.

That took me a little bit of thought, but here is how I think a young man can understand sexual arousal.

Sexual Arousal Motivates Marriage. Arousal points you to the fact that God wants you to marry. The fact that you feel sexual desire is a good and God-given thing—he uses it to point you toward marriage. Sexual desire is a part of how God has wired men so that they will pursue a bride. So in that way, see it as something that is not inherently evil. Arousal is evil only if it is improperly acted upon or if it leads to sin.

Sexual Arousal Preaches Imperfection. The very fact that you feel sexual desire tells you that you are incomplete—incomplete without a wife with whom you can find satisfaction and fulfillment of that desire. And I think this kind of incompletion can point you to the wider reality that we live in an incomplete world marred by the realities of sin. There may be a deeper lesson in unfulfilled sexual desire.

Sexual Arousal Teaches Self-Control. Young men who continually give in to sexual desire by acting out on it through masturbation train themselves—their minds and bodies—that they need and deserve sexual release whenever they feel desire. And yet that is not how life works. Even married men with loving wives and great sex lives deal with a great deal of unfulfilled sexual desire. So this is an opportunity to train yourself, while still young, that sexual desire can and must be controlled if it is to be something that is properly stewarded to the glory of God.

In the end, if you trust the Lord, you can know that there is no temptation that must cause you to sin. The Holy Spirit gives you the ability, the power, to stand strong in the face of even the most difficult torment. So in those moments when desire is aroused and when it feels like torture, you need to plead the cross, you need to preach the gospel to yourself. In those moments you need to know that Christ died to forgive sin and he rose to overcome the power of sin and death. So you can remain unstained by sexual sin.

December 23, 2010

And here we are, at the end of another classic. If you’ve been doing this since the beginning, you’ve now read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Real Christianity by William Wilberforce, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray, The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes, Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore. And, of course, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. I’ve spoken to a few people recently (in real-life even) who have kept up and who have enjoyed the book. So I’m glad to know that some of you continue to read along.

This week’s chapter was titled “Holy Space and Holy Time” and in wrapping up the book Sproul turns to a discussion of setting apart certain spaces and certain times as holy. He writes about traditional church architecture and its function in drawing people to the holy, something he has emphasized in several of his other books. He writes about what goes missing in churches that are designed to be functional rather than beautiful. “What is often lost in these functional church designs is the profound sense of threshold. A threshold is a place of transition. It signals a change from one realm to another.” If you have ever visited Dr. Sproul’s home church of St. Andrew’s you will see how he and the members of that church have sought to recapture traditional design including the concept of threshold.

He writes as well about sacred times and in particular the Sabbath and the Lord’s Supper.

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper involves sacred time in three distinct ways. First, it looks to the past, instructing believers to remember and to show forth Christ’s death by this observance. Second, it focuses on the present moment of celebration, in which Christ meets with His people to nurture them and strengthen them in their sanctification. Third, it looks to the future, to the certain hope of their reunion with Christ in heaven, where they will participate in the banquet feast of the Lamb and His bride.

December 23, 2010

Because I am now working out of the church offices a couple of days a week, I am starting to haul my library over there (since that’s where I anticipate doing the bulk of my study). That’s no small task, as it happens. But little by little I’m moving it over, a few boxes and a single bookcase at a time. My back hurts.

Critical Thinking Saves Faith - Nancy Pearcey writes about the importance of critical thinking in the Christian life.

The Worst Gifts Ever - MSNBC has a roundup of gifts you don’t want to give or get this Christmas.

The Final Judgment - Matt Perman writes about something we often miss when we discuss the final judgment.

Famous Pastor Quits, Moves to Asia - CNN writes about Francis Chan. “He pastored a 4,000-member church in California. He was a sought-after speaker at major conferences, wrote two best-sellers and launched a DVD teaching series. Then he abruptly resigned and left the country. But in Francis Chan’s unexpected journey there apparently is no hidden scandal, no money trail, and no ‘other’ woman.”

Homeschooling by the Numbers - Here’s an interesting (though obviously one-sided) infographic on homeschooling in the US of A.

Free Online Hebrew Course - David Murray posts a link to an online Hebrew course he created a few years ago. I wonder if this will teach you to speak Hebrew with a Scottish accent…

Free MLJ - A friend of mine has made up a list of free Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermons. So if you want to hear some MLJ or know where you can find other free resources, click the link.

O Come:

There is nothing that tells the truth about us as Christians so much as our prayer life. —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

December 22, 2010

Back in November I encouraged you to Enjoy Messiah This Christmas and I know that quite a lot of you did—you took in a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I’d love to hear about your experience. Where did you go and what was it like? Give me a brief report!

Let me tell you about the performance I saw last night with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

First off, it was great to bump into several friends there. And it was interesting that for the second year in a row I bumped into a reader of this site in the bathroom at Roy Thompson Hall; that’s two times he and I have crossed paths, and in both cases it’s been in the bathrooms of Roy Thompson. Small world, I guess (and sorry—I didn’t catch your name!).

Messiah is an annual tradition for me, so I’ve seen quite a few performances of it. This year’s was entirely unique and utterly amazing. The conductor ws Andrew Davis—that’s Maestro Sir Andrew Davis to you. But he not only conducted Messiah; he also re-orchestrated it. This was a major 10-month project for him. His aim was “to keep Handel’s notes, harmonies, and style intact, but to make use of all the colours available from the modern symphony orchestra to underline the mood and meaning of the individual movements.”

This led to quite a few unexpected instruments being used: marimba, darabuka, bells and even tambourine (yes, tambourine). While the piece’s words and flow were unchanged, there were significant changes to the orchestration throughout. The performance kicked off with the Overture, as it always does, but it was led not by strings but by the woodwinds. So from the first notes I knew this was going to be very, very different. And, indeed, it was. But Davis made it work. Many of his changes to the orchestration were meant to illuminate the meaning of the different movements and in this he succeeded very well, whether it was in adding to the irony of the lighthearted feel of “All we like sheep have gone astray” (by which Handel meant to show how flippant we can be about our sin) or in coming up with a kind of echo effect for “The trumpet shall sound” which was meant to show that the trumpet is sounding far and wide. I found that I understood Messiah much more this year than I ever have in the past.

His explanatory notes in the program were very, very helpful. Here’s an example from immediately before the “Unto us a Child is born” chorus:

The orchestration for the chorus ‘For unto us a Child is born’ is robust, but when, towards the end, the militaristic tenor drum threatens to take over, the rest of the orchestra, embarrassed, fades away, leaving us with the thought that perhaps the most important of the Messiah’s names is ‘Prince of Peace.’

If there was anything about the performance that disappointed me even a little it would have been the “Hallelujah Chorus” where some of his changes seemed just a little bit heavy-handed (mostly related to bells ringing at otherwise quiet moments). Of course I feel ridiculous even taking issue with something done by Sir Andrew Davis whose knowledge of music is infinitely greater than mine, but I suppose I’m still entitled to my opinion. I also felt that the alto soloist was just a little bit weak compared to the other soloists, though the fact that she was on the far side of the stage from me must have contributed to that. And finally, the seats we had didn’t give us the vantage point I would have liked; we were very close to the stage and couldn’t see back to the percussion, brass or woodwinds. But that’s just because we didn’t want to spend the money to get better seats.

Nevertheless, it was an amazing performance and easily my favorite of all-time. I am hoping that at some point we will be able to enjoy a recording of Davis’ reorchestration of Messiah. It’s that good!

December 22, 2010

I’ve got a slightly abbreviated A La Carte today after having a busy day yesterday—the kind of day that just didn’t allow me a lot of time to do online reading.

The Virgin Birth - Dr. Mohler takes on the question: “Must one believe in the Virgin Birth to be a Christian? This is not a hard question to answer. It is conceivable that someone might come to Christ and trust Christ as Savior without yet learning that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. A new believer is not yet aware of the full structure of Christian truth. The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.”

Music: Gift or God? - Bob Kaufln offers up some reflections on music as a gift or a god.

Smart People Who Say Stupid Things - Andrew Le Peau: “I’m always amazed when very intelligent people say very stupid things. But it’s happened again. This time it’s in The Grand Design, the latest book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.”

Do Whatever You Want - John MacArthur on the will of God.

Preaching is the miracle of God communicating himself to a fallen world through the words of a fallen man. —Brian Edwards

December 21, 2010

Last year I posted a series of interviews under the banner of Meet the Ministries. It was a means of introducing you to some of the great ministries that serve the church today. You got to meet Grace to You, Desiring God, Acts 29, Peacemaker Ministries, CCEF and Truth for Life. I am continuing that series this fall with another set of interviews. It began with Eternal Perspective Ministries and now turns to Ligonier Ministries. I interviewed Chris Larson who serves as Ligonier’s Executive Vice President.

How and when did Ligonier Ministries begin?Ligonier
To answer these two questions well requires a little history. Ligonier Ministries began in the fall of 1971 (so in 2011 we turn 40). Dr. Sproul was approached by a group of Christians in the Pittsburgh area about starting a study center for Christian learning and discipleship in the hills of western PA. He consulted with Francis Schaeffer at the time about L’Abri, and Dr. Schaeffer encouraged RC to do it and believed it would be helpful for the church. This new outreach appealed to RC for a number of reasons, but largely because of his interest in communicating theology in practical terms to the layperson. After stints teaching in colleges and seminaries, he found the most joy in seeing the average churchgoer come alive when they grasped the things of God. Remember that the zeitgeist of the 1960s had introduced rampant relativism, in effect accelerating the secularization of culture and liberalism in the church. Thus, Ligonier Valley Study Center was born as a place to equip Christians to be articulate and effective in their defense of classical Christianity. And hundreds of students came to live and learn among the Sprouls and other teachers. It was there that the first talks on The Holiness of God were delivered.

I would call that Ligonier 1.0, because it quickly became apparent that the Lord had more in mind for the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. As he taught, new forms of media and communication were rapidly developing. While the ministry’s use of radio was still a few years away, the rise of “radical” new technologies such as audio cassettes and Beta/VHS presented the ministry with a whole new audience beyond the confines of the study center.

Students studied resources delivered by the mail, and the growth was explosive. Adding to the growing national following was the birth of Tabletalk magazine in 1977. The distance learning aspect of Ligonier quickly eclipsed the regional campus, so in the early ‘80s, Ligonier relocated to Orlando to accommodate the growth. We did this all while Dr. Sproul continued to pour his academic life into students through service at the seminary level. In 1985, The Holiness of God was published, followed by Chosen By God in 1986. Nineteen eighty-eight saw our first national Reformed theology conference. And the pace of growth kept going throughout the ‘90s into the present. In 1994, we began our international radio broadcast, Renewing Your Mind. In 1995, The Reformation Study Bible was first published, originally as the New Geneva Study Bible. Reformation Trust Publishing began in 2006 to maintain our focus to serve learners with trustworthy Christian books from contemporary authors. Much of our activity today focuses on strengthening the outreach of our core teaching ministries and harnessing new communication technology, while at the same time returning to our study-center roots with the new Ligonier Academy campus.

Sproul