Saturday, March 31, 2012

Books for March 2012

How We DecideHow We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I believe the author set out to respond (indirectly) to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, as he argues throughout the book (in a style somewhat similar to Gladwell’s, at least insofar as it makes its points through a series of interesting and well-told stories that illustrate poignantly the premises of his collective argument) that our emotions play a huge and subconscious role in our decision-making. If that is the case— if his aim was to undermine Gladwell’s perspective— then he didn’t quite accomplish it, in my mind.

If, however, his goal was simply to explore the role of emotions in decision-making, he did this well overall. There were times when Lehrer’s worldview and religious (or irreligious) perspectives obscured his argument, and most of the time these seemed unnecessary to me; he could well have made these points without such references. And he also goes a bit too far in arguing the power of emotions in the decision-making process, without fully justifying the lengths he takes it. But overall Lehrer’s points are well-made and well-taken.

Southern BiscuitsSouthern Biscuits by Nathalie Dupree

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great book on baking biscuits— which, for me, has always had a mystical and somewhat untouchable quality to it. These two authors paint a picture of biscuit-baking that is both inviting and approachable. The lengthy introductory material gives a great overview of what makes a good biscuit, what can cause them to be difficult to make, hints on getting started with success, and encouragement about the patience and commitment it will take to become a good biscuit-baker!

What follows, of course, is a host of tested and proven recipes for biscuits of all sorts, and for all levels of experience. I can’t wait to try my hand at some of these.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I reviewed these three books earlier on the blog

God and FootballGod and Football by Chad Gibbs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun, easy read that hit on an important topic and hit it well.

The inherent issue addressed by this book— stated clearly in the title, the tension between football fanaticism (especially in the Southeastern Conference, but in many other football conferences and many other sports as well) and the Christian faith— is an issue that I’ve recognized for years as a central struggle, or at least something that should be a central struggle, for Christians who are also sports fans. The problem is, how to address this without adopting a sanctimonious tone?

Chad Gibbs does a great job of that in this book. He is a self-confessed football fanatic, as well as a professing Christian, and the need for re-evaluation of this tension is entirely self-directed. The whole book chronicles his personal quest to find a proper balance of these things, and is held forth as one man’s story rather than a prescriptive pattern. Along the way, Gibbs encounters many others who share his struggle, and some are more helpful than others in working out a more balanced view— but none of them are presented in a judgmental light. Indeed, Gibbs is quick to acknowledge where some of those, whose circumstances would be significantly greater struggles for him, have found a way to handle it in a manner that he’s not sure he would have the capacity for.

I really like Gibbs’s writing style; he is witty and sometimes ironic, usually in a self-effacing way, and he is honest and vulnerable in his delivery. This book makes me eager to read more of his work.

I am torn in rating the book, because on the one hand I wanted more application, more prescription to emerge from this journey that the reader accompanies Gibbs upon; while on the other hand I wrestle with whether more prescriptive application would be either possible or appropriate. In the end, I suspect that anyone reading the book will find sufficient personal relevance to see themselves within its pages without the need for overt prescription. It is close, but somehow not quite there, in deserving a fifth star.

View all my reviews

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sermons for April 2012

An Eastertide Series on the Cross:

4/1/2012 — 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (The Centrality of the Cross)
4/8/2012 — Colossians 1:19-23 (The Accomplishment of the Cross)
4/15/2012 — Hosea 11:1-11 (Satisfaction for Sin)
4/22/2012 — Exodus 12:1-28 (The Substitutionary Atonement)
4/29/2012 — Romans 5:1-11 (Suffering & Glory)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review of The Hunger Games trilogy

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review is for all three of the books in the series.

My review is a complex one, because the books themselves are complex and the trilogy is a web of complexity. I read these for several reasons, not least because Marcie had read them and wanted to talk about them. One friend said she had a “book hangover” for several days after reading them— that’s a good way to describe the emotional oppressiveness that lingers for a while after you’ve read them. And yet, there’s also something welcome about the story told in these books, and I did enjoy them.

There’s a lot to say here, and it’s best to divide out the topics into pieces.

Taken by itself, the writing quality of these books is definitely above average. It’s engaging, well-paced, and effective for story-telling. There’s little to no cliché or tired convention, and there’s an honesty to them that is endearing—which is odd considering the subject matter.

The author has a great love for plot twists, and there are perhaps one or two more than I would have preferred. This is probably my only complaint about the writing.

If I were rating this book based on the writing alone, I would probably give it four stars, or perhaps 4.5 (if GoodReads would allow half stars!).

So, the story is more than a little dark. But let’s face it: dystopian tales are, by nature, dark, so that’s to be expected, right? As dark, dystopian stories go, this one is pretty good.

I’m no expert on the history of ancient Rome, but I believe that the Hunger Games trilogy offers a loose, future re-telling of the downfall of the Roman empire. Or at least, it has a number of echoes of that era and theme. This makes for an interesting twist, and also tones down the darkness a bit (because if the story was only describing future possibilities, it would be quite bleak indeed).

The underlying relationships in the story help a lot. There’s something of a love triangle, which has the potential to turn hokey (but doesn’t). This keeps the story from dragging at some points, provides a welcome distraction from the darkness of the main story (and at times actually seems to be the real main story), and offers motivation for some of the more important plot lines.

There’s a plausibility to this story that is striking, which is one of the real strengths of both the writing and the story-telling abilities of the author. I think this is an aspect of the books that has struck a strong chord with many readers, as is implied by analysis such as Slate’s“The Economics of the Hunger Games” and other similar articles.

As with the writing, if I were rating the book on the basis of the story, from a strictly abstract perspective I would give it four stars.

So why only three stars, if the writing and the story merit at least four? Because of two fundamental problems which present the more complicating factors.

First off is the ethical/moral structure presented in the book. I’ve read some reviews that complain that the writer presents an ethical worldview that is too flimsy; in Douglas Wilson’s review, for example, he points to the very “situational ethics” quality of the Hunger Games trilogy, and demonstrates how these kinds of situations don’t square with a biblical Christian ethics. He makes strong points, but I don’t fully agree with his assessment.

The problem with Wilson’s review is that he seems to assume that it is/was Suzanne Collins’s job to offer an ethical perspective that is biblical, or at least consistent with biblical morality and nobility. Why would this be a reasonable assumption? As far as I know, Collins doesn’t claim to be a Christian— and even if she does, I’ve never heard or read any claim that the books themselves are written as “Christian fiction”. Sure, it’s possible to have mainstream fiction that is consistent with biblical values, but just because some fiction is biblically consistent doesn’t mean that all fiction must be. (This is the kind of logic problem I would expect Wilson to suss out pretty easily.)

Still, I’m not indifferent to Wilson’s concerns, the ethical conundra presented in The Hunger Games are complex enough to be stomach-churning at times, which leads me to tend to rate it lower. I would have a hard time recommending it to younger, less-discerning readers.

Which leads me to my second problem area: these books (and the movie(s) now coming out based on them) have been presented as “Young Adult Fiction”— which is hogwash. They’re published by Scholastic, which explains (to an extent) why they are being marketed to such a young audience. But it’s very difficult to see how these are appropriate for young readers.

So much of the content in these books is disturbing enough to create multiple problems for younger readers. The ethical ambiguities mentioned above are one aspect. Another is how they would inevitably leave some (like my son) with recurring fears and nightmares. Generally, too, I imagine that they would have to create some doubt or even cynicism about the future, in terms of ecological concerns (since the setting of the world described is in a changed and reduced version of North America, affected drastically by climate change), governmental concerns, military/warfare concerns, and so on.

It’s not to say that some of these concerns are completely illegitimate, nor are they matters that younger audiences shouldn’t begin to learn about. Rather, I doubt seriously whether dystopian fiction is the venue by which we should teach them.

I think the thing that troubles me the most about The Hunger Games is that they are presented as Young Adult Fiction— indeed, that they (and any of the now garden-variety vampire stories) are increasingly seen as the new archetype of Young Adult Fiction.

For the ethics complexity, I would rate the book at two stars; the “Young Adult Fiction” categorization, though, ranks at one star for me. Overall, then, my review balances out at three stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Litany for Church Leadership

I wrote this litany prayer for our Session last week; Steve said it was pretty good, so I thought I would post it here. I think it applies for any church's leadership.


Praise & Glory to God
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

~ Psalm 111

We acknowledge that You, the Lord, are the only true God, and that You are the sovereign, just, merciful, and gracious God who knows and attends to all things; nothing occurs that escapes Your notice, and no one nor anything can limit the extent of Your power before all challenges or obstacles to the accomplishment of Your will.

Lord, we praise you.

We give praise for Your boundless blessings in gathering Your people as a church; and for giving us the privilege of community and fellowship through a local congregation.

Lord, we praise you.

We glorify You, O God, for Your enduring faithfulness in caring for Your children, for meeting our needs, and for lavishing great bounty and gifts on us.

Lord, we praise you.

We thank You, Lord, that You will good and gracious things for Your people, that You promise to meet all of our needs, and that Your redemption is without limit.

Lord, we praise you.

We offer praise and thanksgiving that, while we are finite in our knowledge, weak and limited in our power, and dim in our understanding, You O Lord, our Heavenly Father, are none of those; that, while we cannot truly fathom the means or ways by which our circumstances may be overcome, Your are neither confused nor confounded by them; and that, while we struggle and doubt in our faithlessness, You are always faithful.

Lord, we praise you.

O gracious heavenly Father, we give You all thanks, honor, glory, and praise for how You have sustained and kept us; how You have brought our congregation through a season of difficulty and trial and preserved us; how You have grown our community closer and deeper in fellowship; and how You have built up and used us, the leaders of Your congregation, for its beauty and glory.

O Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we praise and thank You.

Confession & Prayers for Forgiveness
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

~ Matthew 7:7-11
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

~ James 4:1-3
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

~ Jeremiah 29:11-13

We acknowledge our sinfulness individually, our sinfulness corporately, and our inability to remain faithful and obedience to Christ and to His commands.

Lord Jesus, have mercy.

We confess the particular sins that have troubled this congregation, and particularly our direct and indirect participation in them:
For our doubt, fear, and unbelief: doubt in Your care and provision for Your people; fear that the future of our congregation’s life is not firmly within Your control; and unbelief in the promises and assurance that we are invited to believe in through the Gospel.

Lord Jesus, have mercy.
For pride, arrogance, and self-idolatry: for our pride in believing that we have done all that is needed and/or beneficial in leading our congregation; for arrogance that the solutions and answers to the problems before us are within our power or wisdom to discern or enact, and even that we would believe that our understanding is infinite enough to grasp them; self-idolatry, that we have put our needs, our fears, and our comfort as the most important and valuable piece of the entire equation.

Lord Jesus, have mercy.

For our failure in shepherding: failure to give attentive care to those who are hurting, struggling, or wrestling with unbelief; failure to act in the care of the sinner and the protection of the church through timely and pastoral discipline; failure to visit those to whom we have been assigned; failure to pray more faithfully for the requests asked of us; failure to demonstrate before our congregation a model of honesty about our own sin, grief over it, and dependence upon the grace of Christ.

Lord Jesus, have mercy.
For our failure in administration of the church’s resources: failure to pastorally discern the gifts and abilities of our members and shepherd them toward faithful service with them; failure to communicate more effectively with the congregation about matters related to the church; failure to demonstrate greater transparency in our leadership, and especially with regard to the budget and handling of money (thereby denying our congregation the opportunity to more thoughtfully and prayerfully participate in Your provision for our financial needs).

Lord Jesus, have mercy.
For our failure in leadership: failure to properly understand our role as shepherds as the primary and singularly most important role that we hold as Elders; failure by, from time to time, being slow to look to Scripture for answers to difficult matters; failure to fully and faithfully keep our word to our avowed submission to the brethren; failure to more effectively attend to our partnership with and oversight of the Diaconate in their labors.

Lord Jesus, have mercy.

We profess our dependence upon You, gracious Christ, and our corporate dependence upon You and Your goodness, for ALL things, seen or unseen, known or unknown.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us.

Petition & Prayers of Faith
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

~ Psalm 73:25-26
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

~ Psalm 130:5-6

We ask, O Lord, for Your mercy and grace to be poured out on us individually, on the Session, on all of the officers, and on the congregation as a whole— in new and refreshing measure, and with abundance.

Father, hear our prayer.

We pray for increased faith and trust in You, God, even in the face of greater difficulty than we have seen yet, and that we would cast our eyes on You rather than on our circumstances, our worries, or our fears.

Father, hear our prayer.

Holy Spirit, we ask that you would direct and guide us, grant us wisdom and discernment, and enable us to lead Your people in the path that you would have us to go, for the sake of Your Kingdom and the spread of the Gospel.

Father, hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, we long to be one as You and the Father are one; draw us together into deeper unity and mutual love and submission, cause us to deny ourselves and put others’ needs and desires before our own, and bring us together in harmony and one accord in our leadership and service to Your body.

Father, hear our prayer.

Grant, dear God, that the Deacons of our congregation would also be increased in faith and trust in You, brought into unity of mind and purpose with us, and freed from fear and doubt to serve You and Your church more faithfully.

Father, hear our prayer.

We pray, dear Lord, that you would provide for the financial needs of our congregation in abundance, through common ways and through surprising and uncommon means.

Father, hear our prayer.

God, we ask that You would open opportunities before us for our movement forward and show us the direction You would have us to take for the most effective use of our resources and the greatest service to Your Kingdom.

Father, hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, we pray that You would refine and perfect our worship, and open our eyes to how we can worship You better and more closely in accordance with how You have instructed us.

Father, hear our prayer.

O Lord, we know you long to see the Gospel go forth through Your church; we pray that You would strengthen and empower us to be instruments for the Gospel, and give us courage and boldness to give answers to those who inquire about our faith, invite our neighbors and friends to worship, and demonstrate care and hospitality to those who visit with us.

Father, hear our prayer.

Dear God, we ask that You would strengthen and shape us into those who would love and care for one another; that we as leaders would be enabled to tend and shepherd our congregation well; and that those who are hurting or struggling, caught in sin or wrestling with unbelief, in need of support or in need of accountability, would be brought closer to the cross for healing and encouragement through our ministry to them.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, hear our prayers and grant us Your grace.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What it DOES mean to prepare our hearts for the Lord's Supper [Repost]

This was printed as my "From Pastor Ed…" column on Sunday. It is essentially a repost of a blog entry from 2011, adapted slightly.


In previous weeks, I commented on some common misunderstandings about "preparing our hearts" and "examining ourselves" with regard to the Lord's Supper. Now I want to comment plainly on what it does mean. To do this, I'll consider the relevant questions and answers from the Westminster Larger Catechism, interacting with each in turn to develop a complete sense of how we might prepare for communion.

Westminster Shorter Catechism question 97: What is required for the worthy receiving of the Lord's Supper?

A. It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord's Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves.

Note a few things of what the Catechism indicates a "worthy" receiving of the Supper consists of: the believer is to examine himself. Examining what? He "discerning" of the Lord's body, his faith, and the fruit of his faith. In other words, to receive the Lord's Supper in a "worthy" manner is to take it seriously, to acknowledge its significance and its weight, and to have a proper reverence and joy in what it represents.

The basis offered for the Catechism's answer-- the sole Scriptural evidence presented-- is 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. Here's that passage, plus the seven verses that precede it and the two after it (context is king!):

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.

This is a full and weighty passage, and there is much in it that sometimes leads to controversy or disagreement. I won't give an exhaustive examination of the whole passage here, but I do want to touch on some highlights, particularly as they pertain to the Catechism question above.

First, note (as should be or become instinctive in Bible reading) that the relevant clause begins with "therefore"-- pointing us to what immediately precedes it. The fact that "a man ought to examine himself" (v. 28) and that he should recognize "the body of the Lord" (v. 29) is directly related to vv. 20-26-- especially vv. 20-22, where Paul describes the conduct of an unworthy participation in the Lord's Supper. "Recognizing the body of the Lord" has as its contrast v. 22's "do you despise the church of God". In other words, the "unworthy" manner is related to the manner of how the Lord's Supper is conducted, not the person participating.

Second, consider "worthiness" as it relates to this passage: could it possibly mean that some are deemed worthy to share in fellowship and communion with God Himself, by merit of their own work (even religious work, i.e., "proper" confessing of sin, etc.)? Or does it more likely mean that "worthiness" indicates a proper awareness of our desperate need for atonement apart from ourselves (and fulfilled in the work of Christ), which this sacrament "proclaims" (v. 26) to us and all around us? Thus, worthily discerning the body of Christ and participating in the Supper means that we long for it, as it represents and reminds us of Christ's great grace poured out for us.

Our Catechism isn't "finished" in helping us with the question about preparing our hearts for Communion, however. There is another helpful question and answer: Westminster Larger Catechism question 171: How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to prepare themselves before they come unto it?
A. They that receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.

Here again, we have a straightforward answer to the question: first and foremost, do you know yourself to be in Christ? To prepare oneself for the Sacrament is to be re-affirmed in faith.

The second part of that first clause, though, is where I think most will be hung up. "Of their sins and wants" might suggest that we should examine our sins and seek to "properly" name them in confession before God, else we should not participate in the Sacrament. Of course, this understanding is the opposite of what I proposed in my first discussion about this topic. Am I contradicted by the Catechism?

Grammatical construction helps us here: notice that, in the answer above, "examining themselves" is set up as the action relating to each of the different sets of things which should be examined. It's as if you could copy that phrase and paste it before each clause, like this: prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; examining themselves of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; examining themselves [of the truth and measure of their] love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; examining themselves of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing...

You get the picture. So, how does the grammar help us? See that the Westminster Divines inserted a comma between "of their being in Christ" and "of their sins and wants"-- but a semicolon after it. In other words, they want us to see the association of the one with the other (by way of the comma) and the distinction of that clause with the rest. So when they urge an examination of our "sins and wants" it is in relation to, and in light of, our being in Christ. We are to prepare our hearts, first of all, by knowing the forgiveness and reconciliation for us in our redemption by and through Christ, and by recognizing our sins and wants as they are forgiven and swept away in Christ.

Likewise, the rest of the answer could be interpreted in a meritorious fashion as well: how much do I love God? How much can I point to the demonstration of my love for the brothers, and charity to all, and forgiveness of those who have wronged me? How much do I desire Christ, and demonstrate my obedience to Him? It's certainly possible to read the Catechism this way, and in so doing make the Sacrament one of two things (which it was never intended to be for us): either we convince ourselves that we do actually measure up to some degree of "worthiness" through all of those things, and it becomes a time of puffing up in arrogance, self-righteousness, and boastfulness; or we see clearly how much we fail to achieve any of those things even inadequately in ourselves, and it becomes a slavish reminder of how far we fall short all the time, in every way, and we loathe to even think of taking it.

Both of these results are clearly contrary to Scripture (as I demonstrated in brief in my previous piece). They are also contrary to the clear teachings throughout the rest of the Westminster Standards! Therefore, these other clauses should be understood rather to mean, in light of the first clause (that we are found in Christ, even in all of our sins and wants), we are to seek the fruit of our faith in Christ in these ways.

The final phrases in that answer lends further credibility to this interpretation: "and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer." Why would we need to renew the exercises if we were already succeeding in them? What is the purpose of serious meditation and fervent prayer for the spiritually worthy and meritorious? But the presence of these concluding remarks expects shortcomings in that which precede them. Even in the assurance of being found in Christ!I'll do one more part of this series, to wrap up by addressing the issue of assurance.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Suggested Specific Prayers for Dove Mountain Church

  • For spiritual growth for all members & regular attenders.
  • For deeper unity and mutual commitment to one another.
  • For our adult discipleship ministries: Sunday School/Enrichment classes; Home Groups; Bible Studies.
  • For our discipleship ministries to students: Sunday School/Enrichment classes; Baby Church; The Resistance (Jr. High/High School Ministry); The Conspiracy (College Ministry).
  • For those who are hurting and/or grieving to be comforted and strengthened.
  • For those who are struggling with sin or unbelief to be encouraged, built up, and drawn closer to Christ.
  • For God to increase our number and enable us to enfold new people fully and effectively into our congregation.
  • For God to continue to make us into a congregation that is safe for all people to be vulnerable and truthful about their struggles, hurts, backgrounds, and doubts; and that in the midst of that we would be equipped and empowered to minister the grace of Christ to one another.
  • For the hearts and minds of all present each week to be prepared and ready for God to meet with them, fellowship with them, and teach and equip them through His Word and Sacrament(s).
  • For the congregation as a whole to be built up in unity, maturity, and commitment to one another.
  • For visitors, especially unbelieving visitors, to come regularly; and that when they come, God would draw them to Himself and give to them faith and belief unto salvation.
  • For the teams that equip us for worship each week: Setup team; Communion team; Hospitality team; Greeters team; Sound team; Music team; Baby Church/nursery team.
  • For those who will be specifically leading and serving during worship: that they would lead humbly and effectively, and that the role that they take would minister to those present.
  • For Pastor Ed (and anyone else who preaches): for his humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit, for readiness of mind and heart to be an instrument of God, for boldness to confidently proclaim the truth of God, and for pastoral understanding to minister through preaching.
  • For endurance, sustenance, grace, and wisdom for all who have leadership roles in our congregation, and for protection of our leaders personally and in their families from trouble, difficulty, relational strife, or spiritual attack.
  • For the leaders of our Home Groups and Bible Studies: John Bailey; Shirley Cooney; Dave & Donna Dalton; Becky Harada; Mike & Ginny Jones; Jeff & Bonnie Lindesmith; Jan Persons; Rags & Millie Ragland; Charles & Shelley Watson.
  • For the leaders of other ministries in our congregation: Allen Harada (prayer chain); Annette Johnson (Care Meals); Joy Remer (Missions Committee); Dave Young (Creation Fellowship) team leaders (see Worship).
  • For the Diaconate: to effectively identify and meet the physical needs of the members of our congregation; to lead well in the attendance to the details and usage of our facilities; and to be discerning and faithful in the budgeting and use of our finances.
  • For the Session: to effectively shepherd, tend, and lead the congregation in our spiritual needs; to lead well in the guidance and direction of our congregation in the path God lays before us; and to wisely and pastorally come alongside those who are struggling and be effective to bring them back into health.
  • For the staff: to serve and care for the day-to-day details and needs of our congregation and our ministries in order to enable more fruitful and faithful participation of all; for the work of ministry in weekly activities and events to be useful to God for advancing His people in their faith.
  • For Pastor Ed: for greater humility, dependence, and growing devotion before God; for wisdom, strength, and knowledge in ministering and caring for individuals and families in visitation, counseling, discipleship, and other settings; for readiness, preparation, and faithfulness in preparing to preach and teach God’s Word through the week; for an ever-increasing devotion to prayer and prayerfulness.
  • For every member of our congregation to be open and ready for God to lead us wherever He may take us, no matter how close or distant from our own opinions that may be.
  • For God to grant discernment, insight, and clarity to our leadership as they seek to determine the best direction for our congregation in the intermediate and long term.
  • For provision for our needs and sustenance for the carrying out of God’s purposes over the coming months and years.
  • For the congregation that God has made and is making us to be, and for the future directions that God leads us in, to ultimately be what is best for ministry and service to the N.W. Tucson area and for the advance of the Kingdom in Tucson and throughout the world.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sermon Texts for March, 2012

These are the texts we'll be looking at for March at Dove Mountain Church:

3.4 — 1 Peter 2:12-17 (Submission 1: Authority)
3.11 — 1 Peter 2:12, 18-25 (Submission 2: Oppression)
3.18 — 1 Peter 2:12, 3:1-7 (Submission 3: Husbands & Wives)
3.25 — 1 Peter 3:8-22 (Godly Suffering)

From Pastor Ed: Thinking about Lent

From my column last Sunday…

This is the first Sunday in Lent— one of the seasons in the church calendar. It actually began on Wednesday, so we're a few days in as of now. As we continue into Lent, it may be helpful to consider together what our focus should be on during this season.

Lent is a season of prayer and preparation, specifically in anticipation of Holy Week and Easter. Everyone loves the jubilation of Easter! And many churches also delight in Palm Sunday and other Holy Week observations (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday). Celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death is worthy and freeing. Lent consists of the 40 weekdays leading up to Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday— known as such because of the reminder that, because of our sin, we return to dust and ashes, just as we came from them. It does not include the Sundays during those weeks, because Sunday is considered to be a weekly celebration of the resurrection (a “little Easter” in that sense).

The goal of Lent is to heighten and highlight the goodness and wonder of Easter by spending time in preparation for it. Therefore, while Easter is a season of feasting in celebration and of rejoicing in that which Christ has accomplished in us, Lent is a season for fasting, for reflection, for humility.

Historically, Christians have observed Lent in a variety of ways— penitential prayer, fasting, almsgiving (gifts to the needy)— all sharing similar themes, such as the reflection of our collective need beyond ourselves, self-examination, a reconsideration of priorities, and the grieving of our sins and sinfulness. Our hearts should be turned to the humility that our spiritual need demands. Our prayers should focus on ourselves and our spiritual poverty. Our souls should reject the self-righteousness and spiritual arrogance that we so quickly assume and turn from our pharisaical ways to repentance.

The number 40 has many connections to biblical events, but the most significant one for Lent is the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness in preparation for His earthly ministry. Our Lord passed those 40 days in fasting and prayer; thus our observation of Lent should be prayerful and often given to fasting. The nature of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness was the beginning of His public service to others, so frequently Lent includes a sense of service and self-sacrifice as well. Many people will endure a partial fast throughout the season of Lent as such an act of self-sacrifice. Often our appetites will drive us into action, affecting us in powerful ways; when we fast in any way, it is an act of submission of desire, where the servant to appetite becomes the master over it.

The liturgical color that is commonly used for Lent is purple. It is a color that has long been associated with penitence and fasting. Because the dyes that are required to make purple used to be quite expensive, it historically was a color that was reserved for royalty— fitting, given the themes of Jesus’ Kingship so often associated with parts of Lent (especially Palm Sunday, which is the last Sunday in the season).

Lent has deep roots in the church, with references to its observation coming as early as the Apostles: in a collection of apostolic writings written after the Bible, it reads, “the fast of Lent is to be observed by you as containing a memorial of our Lord’s mode of life and legislation” (The Constitutions of the Apostles, V.III). From the historical records of the church, it is clear that the regular and wide-spread observation of Lent was in place by the 4th Century A.D.

Many protestants are confused about Lent, and whether they should observe or participate in it. Although today Lent is usually connected more with Anglican, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist practices, we should not be quick to dismiss or reject it; many churches are “recovering” some of the long-standing practices of the people of Christ for worship and for the practice of their faith.

There are two particular ways that our congregation will be actively observing Lent in our corporate life: first, we will share in a day of fasting, which the Session has called for next week (March 3). If you are able, I would urge you to consider strongly whether you might participate in our time of corporate fasting. Second, during our Confession of Sin each Sunday during the season of Lent, we will offer confessions for specific and particular sins (such as today's, for cynicism, and next Sunday's, regarding the misuse of the body).

Some may wonder if it is appropriate to confess particular sins in this way, both because of the particularity and because they may not feel that they struggle with those sins. To the first, I would point out that our own confession of faith, the Westminster Confession, says, "it is every man's duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly" (WCF XV.5). In other words, where we have and know of particular sins, our regular and ordinary prayers of confession should include those in particular ways. To the second, I might mention this: part of the reason why we share in a corporate confession of sin (rather than simply having a silent time for private confession only) is that we might achieve greater solidarity with the Body of Christ, even in our confession. Therefore, insofar as these particular sins are struggles of some— perhaps within our congregation, and certainly within the universal church— then we should not shrink back from confessing them with and for our brothers and sisters, even if we do not personally struggle with them.

Lent offers a valuable and needed piece of our spiritual well-being. I would urge that you consider whether some personal, ongoing observation of Lent is needed in your life this year.