Christmas Music I Actually Enjoy!

23 12 2008

I’m not a huge fan of Christmas music.  I know that makes me the odd man out, especially this time of year.  Our church secretary would probably start playing Christmas music in July if she could, and she (and Dave… and many others!) usually give me a hard time for being such a “Grinch” about Christmas music.

However, this year I’ve found a Christmas album I can’t stop playing.

One of my favorite musicians, Fernando Ortega, has just released Christmas Songs.  Like he does so wonderfully and so often, he has taken songs that most of us could sing our our sleep and breathed new life into them. Christmas favorites like “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Angels We Have Heard on High”  are arranged in such a way that numbing familiarity melts away and the beauty of the lyrical message comes shinning through.

Take a few moments to watch this little video, in which Fernando explains some of the stories behind the songs, his reason for doing new arrangements, and plays through a couple of the pieces.  Then go to iTunes or Amazon and buy this album.  I’m enjoying it so much, you might even find me listening to it in July!

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Memorizing the Hymns

21 12 2008

covenlifehymnsCovenant Life Church, where Josh Harris pastors, has devoted itself to spend the next 10 months memorizing some of the great hymns of the faith.  Each month, as a church, they will be memorizing a hymn in order to be obedient to Colossians 3:16 and also to make sure they don’t lose connection with the great songs of God’s people from generations past.

Here is the list of hymns they’ll be (and have been) memorizing:

NOVEMBER – Amazing Grace
DECEMBER – Before the Throne
JANUARY – Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
FEBRUARY – Be Thou My Vision
MARCH – And Can It Be
APRIL – Crown Him with Many Crowns
MAY – A Mighty Fortress
JUNE – Be Still My Soul
JULY – How Firm a Foundation
AUGUST – Great is Thy Faithfulness

They’ve also used their great musical resources to put together an album of these hymns.  You can listen to samples and purchase the music here.

What a wonderful idea.

Polishing God’s Monuments

19 12 2008

The “Why?” question is a biggie.

We all probably know of someone or some situation that challenges what we believe about God: the godly couple who remains barren after years of prayer and faithfulness, the child who dies of a mysterious illness, the young man with all the spiritual gifts in the world who falls into sin and ruins his bright future.

When we think about what happened or to whom it happened we’re tempted to ask God “Why?”  However, there is usually a lot of tone in our “why?” question- it is not the innocent “why?” of a three-year-old trying to gain more information, it is an accusatory, “God, what is wrong with You?! Why did you let this happen?!” type of question.

Polishing God's MonumentsJim Andrews has written Polishing God’s Monuments: Pillars of Hope for Punishing Times to help us wrestle with this biggie.  However, the book he has written is not a treatise coming down from the ivory tower of scholarship; it is the insight and wisdom of a godly pastor who has lived inside of this question- in that world that challenges what we know of God- for the better part of two decades.  He has written not just to raise the question, but to help those who wake up each morning and will battle all day with this question.

This book is the work of a pastor’s heart- it is practical, rich, powerful, and filled with care and compassion.  It doesn’t just bludgeon the “why?” crowd with theological answers, but it unpacks the truth of God with heart and wisdom and honesty (even pastors struggle with the way God’s plans work out? Imagine that!).

I came across this book as I was looking for something to give to my mother to encourage her.  As many of you know, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last spring.  She had a major surgery in August, and now, as  she recovers from the surgery, she wrestles with  the possible (and probability) of the cancer returning.

I had read some good reviews of this book, so I picked up a copy to give to her.  However, I figured I should read through it first, since I hadn’t read anything else by the author.  Several nights during the week I read this book, I was up way later than I should have been simply because I could not put the book down.  It challenged me, captivated me, and really helped me work through some things I was personally wrestling with.  I was delighted to give the book to my mom the next week, and she continues to tell me how much she is enjoying it and how it is ministering to her.

Polishing God’s Monuments is really two books in one.  It is a pastoral and theological work explaining how, as believers, we endure suffering and trust God, and it is also the story of a family who walked through suffering like most of us will never face (or would never have imagined possible).  Between each chapter that explores and offers counsel on how to deal with suffering, Pastor Andrews has inserted letters (which were originally written to his church) sharing the updates on his daughter and son-in-law’s battle with debilitating illness that robbed them of the opportunity, not only to serve God as foreign missionaries, but to have any kind of “normal” life.  It is in these letters that you see the overwhelming burden this trial put upon the entire Andrews family, and you, as a reader, realize that the advice just offered in the previous chapter has been battle tested and proven faithful.

And this is why I believe this book is so powerful.  It is not simply theorizing about how we might be able to endure suffering; it is the testimony and wisdom of a man who has been there and continues to walk in it, sharing with his fellow pilgrims that truth and wonder of learning to truly take God by the hand and venture on amidst (and in spite of) the often overwhelming “Why?” questions of life.

Pick up a copy of this book, read it, and pass it on.  It truly is a blessing.

Congrats Dave!

17 12 2008

…and Michelle (who did all the hard work!).  Today, at 1:18, their third child (and first daughter) was born.  Welcome, Megan Elizabeth; Dave needed more pink in his world!
For all the info, check out Michelle’s blog.

Isaiah 45 – Blinded by Sovereignty

17 12 2008

A month ago I happened to read Isaiah 45 and was really struck by it.  I was going to post about, then the hiatus came, then I forgot about it…

But then Ryan preached a great sermon on God’s sovereignty, and then wrote that examination on God and “fairness”, so I figured I should get in on the party.

There’s a lot in this passage I wanted to touch on, but instead of listing the entire chapter, I think I will humbly request that you read the whole chapter first.  Don’t forget to come back when you’re done!

So, do you feel puny and in awe of our great Creator?!  If not, let’s look at a few parts of what the prophet was writing here.

God will use the tools He wants based on His purposes, not necessarily that person’s merits.
The beginning of the chapter relates how God called out Cyrus the Great to be his instrument to subdue nations for the benefit of Israel.  It is interesting to see God remark that He is calling Cyrus in spite of the fact that Cyrus does not acknowledge God.  It is important to also see God’s purpose in this is so that “men may know there is none besides Me.” (v 6)

God alone creates and distributes righteousness.
Verse 8 was the reason I read this chapter and just thinking about it was filling me with wonderment.  Think about the seeming randomness of nature.  Rain drops falling here and there, flowers and plants growing in variety and uniqueness.  We Christians see these things, but don’t deny that God is controlling all of it.  Yet here, God is comparing that apparent randomness to how He distributes righteousness and salvation.  It may seem random, but He is in control.  He not only is sovereign in it’s distribution, but also in it’s inception! (I, the LORD, have created it)

God has the indisputable right to do as He pleases.
The next five verses show that God is aware of our inability to understand all this and provides His response to human questioning of His methods.  The potter and clay image is even more well known thanks to Paul using it in his own writings and is very powerful.  God’s claim to sovereignty is found in the fact that none of us would be here if it weren’t for Him.  He created us, thus He owns us.

God answers only to Himself.
If you feel you are being repressed by an unfair authority, you would seek the judgment and delivery from someone in higher authority, right?  Well, I think this is the reason God makes so many declarations of His exclusivity in this chapter about His sovereignty.  Consider:

“I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
“I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right”
“And there is no God apart from me”
“a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but Me”
“I am God, and there is no other”

If we are even going to entertain the evil attitude to question God’s practices, who are we going to complain to?  Does God have a superior who can put Him in His place?  Is there a law above God that we can point to to show Him the err of His ways?  To entertain a question of the “unfairness” of God is to presume that God must answer to something or someone.  Maybe it is the case that we have set up our own ideas of morality and truth as an idol above God…

So I ask again, do you feel puny?  Are you in awe?  If not, you should probably read Isaiah 45 again.  Don’t despair at God’s sovereignty, rejoice in it.  We are sustained every day by it, we are saved by it.


2008 Books of the Year

16 12 2008

Tony Reinke, over at Miscellanies, has put up his annual “Books of the Year” list.  It is always a great selection, and I found last year’s choices a very good source for my reading in ’08.  I’m sure this year’s list will be a helpful guide for ’09. Thanks, Tony!

2008 Books of the Year

39 Lessons, 20 Tips and 10 “Don’ts”

15 12 2008

Check out this great list for Christian parents: “39 Lessons, 20 Tips and 10 ‘Don’ts’ for Parenting.”   It is put together by Matt & Elizabeth Schmucker and posted over at IX Marks.  Matt is the executive director of IX Marks and an Elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Some of my personal favorites:

(From Lessons about Ourselves…)

1. To be a faithful steward of your children you must abide in Christ (John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”).

6. Being parented is defining; Parenting is refining.

10. To have children is to need margin in your life.

11. A disreputable life will undermine the gospel. An exemplary life will commend it.

(From Lessons about Children…)

13. Pack in truth while your children are little and trust the Lord to unpack it in his time.

20. Do not presume you will be able to speak into the lives of your older children if you do not live in their world when they are younger. Play with your children. There is a reap/sow principle at work here (2 Cor. 9:6: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”).

29. Teach your children to receive reproof, correction, and instruction (Prov. 12:15 “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice”).

30. Let kids be kids. Let them dabble in various areas of extra-curricular activities (sports, art, drama, etc) rather than build a resume.

(From Lessons about Satan [his devices]…)

36. Arm your children for the world, not (necessarily) shield them from it. Consider getting your high-school-aged children out of the Christian bubble.

(From Lessons about God…)

37. Prayer is a mighty weapon to use in the life of your children:
a. It changes the parent’s approach to the child
b. It softens the hard-hearted child

39. God elects. God saves. Parents cannot do this heart-changing work. At best we can pray and point to the One who can cause our children to be born again.

There is a lot more excellent stuff in this article.  Be sure to check it out.