Saturday, September 29, 2012

Soccer part 2

Matt had his second game today. He scored one goal last game, and I figured, he probably won't score another one this week so I didn't bring my camera. This picture was from last week.
Guess how many goals he scored today?
He scored 3 goals! We won 7-0. Matt had the first 2 goals which started the onslaught. The coach awarded him a medal for the game. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what happened with 2 of the goals. It seemed like they were just about going in on their own, and he helped them the last couple of feet. Was it a case of him being at the right place at the right time or was there actually some skill involved? Either way, Matt had a great time, and I'm happy for him.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

#14 - The Drift Into Deception

It's not often that I get to read a book written by someone I personally know. The book takes on a whole new dimension when you know a person's personality and experiences. It definitely takes a deeper level when you've gone through meaningful times together.

I met Agnes Lawless (Elkins) this past year and spent several months talking, praying and weeping with her and Dick as the Lord took her second husband back to Him in heaven. It was truly sorrowful yet rejoicing. During that time, she gave me a couple of her books. I just recently finished The Drift Into Deception.
Agnes shares her personal story of being involved in a church that began as an orthodox evangelical church but slowly turned into a cult. Through her own personal experience with her first husband John, she recounts what happened. She also explains 8 characteristics of cults and heretical movements based upon much research.

The 8 characteristics are:
  1. Charisma and pride
  2. Anger and intimidation
  3. Greed and fraud
  4. Immorality
  5. Enslaving authoritarian structure
  6. Exclusivity
  7. Demanding loyalty and honor
  8. "New" extrabiblical revelation
It was heartwrenching to hear Agnes and John's story since I knew her. On top of that, this book really hit close to home as I had gone through something similar though not to that degree. I could identify with almost every characteristic with my own past experience. I hold the same scars that have taken years for Christ to bring healing and peace to my soul.

This is a good book first for all who are in a situation or know of someone in a situation where you have questions about the leadership in a church. Maybe you are paranoid and this book will quell your suspicions and help calm you down. But I think this type of thing happens more often than we realize or care to admit.

Second, this is a good book for those of us who are in church leadership. We may not be leading a cult or teaching heresy (we'd better not be!), but as sinful men, we can be exhibiting pride in our leaderhip. We may be more authoritarian than we think and may use anger and intimidation instead of grace and love to lead our people. We may be demanding loyalty to ourselves and our ministries instead of exhorting loyalty to Christ. These are good warnings for us to not tread one step down a path that is heretical.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pac-Man

Who did you like more?
Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man?
And what exactly was their relationship? Siblings? Family? Same species?
In any case, Sandy decided to go back to the 80's with the boys' room. It gives the room some fun flavor, I think.
Although it might not be conducive to studying. It seems to put Andrew to sleep...or is it the schoolwork that does it?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Soccer

Matt started soccer season yesterday.
He was excited but a little nervous as it's been a while since he played soccer. He has to wear a mouthguard in this league. His poor little mouth is so small with the mouthguard in it that he has to work hard to keep from gagging.
His team name is the Tornadoes. Ironic, since we moved away from Kansas. This is the calm before the storm.
Emz was excited to cheer her big brother on, really, she was.
video
Guess who scored the first goal of the season? And, the Tornadoes won 2 to 1. Great job Matt!

Friday, September 21, 2012

#13 - Expository Listening

Whoa Nellie! I am waaaay behind in my book summaries. I think I finished Ken Ramey's Expository Listening in June. Yikes. I have a few more books to post about as you can see on my reading list on the right hand column. Better late than never.
I've read all sorts of books about preaching and teaching and studying and interpretation. But this is the first book I've read on our responsibility as listeners. In reading through the endorsements of the book, I'm not the only one.

Ramey states in his foreward, "Listening to a sermon, really listening - as in thinking, praying, following the argument, concentrating on the meaning and its application to your life - now that's hard work! Merely hearing a sermon is easy...Actively listening to the preaching of God's Word requires mental alertness, focused attention, and a spiritually receptive heart." I think he nails it in describing the plight of many Christians in many churches, especially in our culture today, who simply hear a sermon.

He begins the book by explaining the theological mandate for every true Christian to wholeheartedly listen to God's Word. Then, he explains how we can prepare our hearts to get the most out of the sermon. Ramey is both principled and practical in his exhortations. He has some really good thoughts about how we should grow in discernment in listening to sermons. Lastly, he ends with some good thoughts on application. Truly listening is not possible if we don't follow through and act on the sermons we hear.

Here are a few gems:
  • Preaching is not a one-sided endeavor. It is a joint venture between the preacher and the listener. Successful sermons result from the listener teaming up with the preacher much like a catcher works in unison with a pitcher.
  • Whenever we are exposed to the Word of God we are in essence being exposed to God Himself (1 Cor 14:24-25). That alone should be enough to motivate us to honor and obey the Word of God.
  • One of the clearest evidences that a person has been born again is a love for God's Word. Before the Spirit regenerates us, we are baffled and bored by preaching. But once we are saved, it suddenly makes sense to us and becomes interesting and begins to have a transforming effect on our lives. There are people attending churches all across this world who have gone to church their entire lives but have little or no interest in the preaching of God's Word. That is evidence that they have never truly been born again.
  • A preacher's commitment to the Lord should be to be prepared every week to stand and deliver His Word. Your commitment to the Lord should be to be prepared every week to sit and receive His Word. My goal is to be the best preacher possible. Your goal should be to be the best listener possible. When the preacher does his part and you do your part, God's Spirit will effectively use His Word to accomplish His purposes in your life.
  • "Chew the cud, and call up all when you come home in secret, and by meditation preach it over to yourselves. If it were coldly delivered by the preacher, do you consider of the great weight of the matter, and preach it more earnestly over to your own hearts." Richard Baxter
  • In ohter words, the better listeners are becoming the better Christians. Why? Because they don't just hear the Word, but it becomes a part of their lives. They live out what they learn. They apply it. They put it into practice.
  • "A sermon is not over when the minister says 'Amen.' Rather that is when the true sermon begins. In an old Scottish story, a wife asked her husband if the sermon was done. 'No' he replied. 'It has been said, but it has yet to be done.'" Joel Beeke
  • "We are told men ought not to preach without preparation. Granted. But we add, men ought not to hear without preparation. Which, do you think, needs the most preparation, the sower or the ground? I would have the sower come with clean hands, but I would have the ground well-plowed and harrowed, well-turned over, and the clods broken before the seed comes in. It seems to me that there is more preparation needed by the ground than by the sower, more by the hearer than by the preacher." C.H. Spurgeon
I highly recommend this book as it deals with an area in our lives that is not often explicitly addressed and yet we all need to grow in this area.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The new office

I am and have always been an office guy. That is, I love a good office. A quiet place where I can put everything in order - all of my plans, schedules, goals and books. Being an administrative, organizational freak, my office is my haven. So not having one for the last 9 months has been a great opportunity to trust in the Lord's good timing and wisdom. Here's a quick recap of how I began and where I am now.
When I first arrived here in ABQ, we needed to decide what space would become my office. This was the best choice - believe it or not!
I appreciated this sign most of all. Did they leave it for me on purpose?
It had a really new lighting concept - horizontal ground floor. I don't think I've ever seen that before. And the curtain was really fancy too!
But then demolition occurred. Just like that, we're starting from scratch.
Then things started going in, not just coming out. I started to get excited then.
Strangely, we went to lights in the ceiling. I guess this is better for reading. We're getting closer. Guess who's pretty excited at this point? That would be me.
What a difference carpet and paint make!
I moved in a few weeks ago. I'm not totally settled as I need to put things up on the wall and get some more furniture for a meeting area. But I'm in!!! I can't thank everyone who was involved enough. So many servants of the Lord helped out in many, many ways. God is good.
And the highlight of my new office is "The Library!" This is a little alcove to the left of the office. I never knew I had so many books!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spiritual Depression Part 2

I wasn't planning on a series on this topic, but for whatever reason, this has been on my mind. Due to a variety of circumstances this week, I've been noticing that a key aspect of depression is emotion. When I am depressed, I have feelings of depression. I feel sad. I feel angry. I feel bitter. I feel hopeless. And I think this is common to man. When we are dealing with some level of depression, our feelings become the predominant guiding force in our lives.

And while God created us to enjoy life, specifically, enjoy Him through our emotions, often our emotions lead us away from God. The relationship between emotions and truth is the key to properly doing that. When our emotions lead us, often they lead us away from God. We feel sad so we wonder why God doesn't seem to love us. We feel angry so we question why God has allowed something we don't like in our lives. We feel hopeless so we think that God isn't being good to us.

When our emotions come first, our deceptive hearts distort the truth. Sin uses our emotions to lead us away from God by believing lies. It's always been that way - Genesis 3:6 "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate;" Eve desired the fruit. It was her emotion that led her to sin.

Unfortunately, people often try to fight feelings with feelings. I don't feel close to God so I try and manufacture feelings for God. I don't feel joy so I try and do things to foster joy. Or people simply try and suppress those depressive feelings as if all emotion were bad. Instead, God wants us to have great joy, but that joy comes through the mind. The means to overcoming depressive feelings is by knowing, believing and thinking about the great truths of God. Thinking truthful thoughts is what creates deep affection, joy, peace and hope.

Take for example:
  • Psalm 16:11 You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
How do we enter the presence of God which contains fullness of joy and pleasures forever? The knowledge God reveals to us.
  • Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;" 
What is the joy for all the people? The angel brought good news [truth] of Jesus' birth to the shepherds.

  • Psalm 97:1 The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; Let the many islands be glad.
Why should the earth rejoice? Because of the truth that the Lord reigns. The rest of the psalm goes on to describe God's glorious power and sovereignty. The knowledge of God brings joy! And the Scriptures go on and on - starting with truth which leads to godly emotion.

It seems counter intuitive, but the way to overcome feelings of spiritual depression is by using the mind to think, learn, be reminded of, meditate on and memorize God's Word so that we learn more truth and more about God. This will lead to different emotions that are joyful, hopeful and happy.

Often times when we are in a rut and do the same reading or the same devotional or have the same schedule, our brain tends to go through the motions. I'm all for consistency and discipline, but I think it is wise to use that discipline to create diversity. That is, plan to do something different. When our minds are forced to learn God's Word through a different format, it forces our minds to engage better. And when the mind engages better, it learns more about God better. And the more we learn about God's splendor and majesty, hopefully the more our emotions will transform from self-centered depressive ones to God centered joyful ones.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Spiritual Depression

Depression is an overused and over-emphasized term in our society today. Despite that, I will use and emphasize the term depression in this post! :) We've all gone through times of depresison, ie - spiritual apathy, sadness, or lack of motivation. The joy's not there. The happiness is missing. At best, we're duty bound to read our Bibles, pray or do whatever we should be doing.

My personality tends toward depression. I have always had a melancholy spirit for whatever reason. I think my sin nature simply gravitates toward expressing itself this way. Thankfully, God has transformed my life in tremendous ways. It is God's supernatural work as I am not the same man I was 10-15 years ago. My times of sadness are not just less frequent and less severe. They are completely of a different nature than they were back then.

Regardless of my past, my present is the issue at hand. I think I'm going through one of those times that you read about in the Psalms - "How long O Lord? Will You forget me forever?!" It's really not that bad. But you get the idea. And as I was pondering and reflecting on the battle in my heart, I realized that I have been going through 3 common experiences that tend to draw people towards depression. Maybe you have gone through times like these too that more strongly tempt you to melancholy.

First, life has been stressful due to major life changes. We have moved twice in a 7 month period. That's enough right there to depress anyone. We moved to a new state, in a new city, to a new church, to a new job for me and to a new school for the boys and girl. That's going to create a lot of long term stress that I think I (and the whole family) have been reaping. The temptation to feel lonely and depressed are very natural in this state of trying to get settled in a new situation.

Second, it's been a busy couple of weeks, that are on the tail end of a busy summer, that is on the tail end of a busy year. Busyness doesn't lend itself to times of meditation and reflection on a day to day level. It's hard to truly ponder God's sovereign providence and goodness in your life when you are frantically rushing from place to place. In fact, just the opposite has been happening as I am forgetting about God's perfect wisdom and kindness in my life as I have been focusing on my pitiful attempts to create some kind of order amidst the chaos.

Third, my time in the Word has felt rushed in my personal devotions, my supplementary reading and especially my sermons. I like to study my sermons for 2 weeks before preaching them. My goal is 3 weeks, but lately, I've dropped down to 1 week. This is not good, and I cannot do this long term. I need weeks to let the Word of God soak into my soul. My heart needs time to saturate with the truth. My mind needs weeks to think about the implications of what the Word is saying. If I am going to stand up in front of my church, bare my soul and preach the Word of God with conviction and passion, then I must have had the time to develop conviction and passion for God's glorious Word.

Now where do I go from here? It's all fine and good to identify the causes of my depression but without a cure, it's rather pointless to stop here. Thankfully, I have a cure. As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 42 - "Why are you in despair O my soul? And why are you downcast within me? HOPE IN GOD, MY EXCEEDING JOY!" Hope in God. God is the source of all joy that overcomes the darkest days. Psalm 63 says - "O God you are my God. I shall seek you earnestly. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh yearns for you. In a dry and weary land where there is no water."

So if God is the answer, but He's also the problem in this state because He feels so elusive and far, how do I deal with that? On a practical level, I think it's important to try new things. If you read one chapter of the Bible a day, try 5. If you read with a plan, try reading spontaneously. If you don't read with a plan, try one. If you are having trouble praying, go to a different place to pray. If you don't normally read books, start reading some Christian books. If you are reading Christian books, try a totally different subject matter. If you don't listen to sermons from other preachers, try a sermon. If you do, listen to someone you don't normally listen to. Mix it up. But seek after God to make Him your exceeding joy.

I personally have been doing this myself in a few different areas, and it has been helping. I get a lot of encouragement out of Christian biographies and haven't read one in a while. I'd like to learn more about D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones whom I have read had a temperament like mine. He wrote a book called Spiritual Depression which has been on my to read list for a while. Maybe it's time to get it.

One last thought of encouragement. Won't it be nice to be in heaven where spiritual depression will be a thing of the past? God will never seem far because He will be absolutely brilliantly, radiantly and gloriously near. Every day will be a new day of fabulous joy that will be unlike any other previous day with wonders a new. Nothing will get old. Nothing will be stale. Nothing will be depressing. O glorious day!