Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light – Bach (arr. GLAD)

December 31, 2013

This is a beautiful rendition of a wonderful Christmas song.
–sdg

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9 Things You Should Know about Down Syndrome

October 29, 2013

October is Down Syndrome awareness month, and I found a great article with a brief intro to the condition. I especially appreciate the author’s emphasis on the joy that children with DS bring. I can personally attest to that.
Here’s the article:
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/10/24/9-things-you-should-know-about-down-syndrome/

sdg

From Hitler’s Wolves to Christ’s Lambs

September 25, 2013

Here’s a great blog by Chad Bird from the Gospel Coalition about an unsung hero who took on a difficult ministry assignment to a hated people group.
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/09/24/from-hitlers-wolves-to-christs-lambs/
sdg

“Wicked” good theology

September 11, 2013

Allie and I went to see “Wicked: the Musical” last night in Boston. The show is supposedly a prequel to the Wizard of Oz, depicting the relationship between Glinda the good witch of the South and Elphaba, the wicked witch of the West. It was a fantastic show, beautifully staged with soaring music, costumes and great acting. It left me conflicted, though, about the message that thousands of people were sitting there soaking up.
Our society seems to have less and less tolerance for those who cling to the “intolerant” notion of absolute truth. When any claim is made about God or about a moral principle that flows from the Bible, many voices insist that what is true (or good, or right) for one person may not be true or good or right for another person. One should not “force” their morals on anyone else. Even the notion of good and evil has taken a hit, as these two ideas are often conflated.
The plot of “Wicked” portrays Elphaba as essentially a good (albeit green) person who was “forced” into wicked witch-dom by the manipulative designs of the Wizard and his cohorts, including Glinda (who isn’t really very good at all; just snarky and self-absorbed). The underlying premise seems to be that “good” people are not good, and “bad” people are not really bad. Let’s just seek happiness for ourselves and others.
There is one scene, however, where Elphaba (the wicked witch) confronts the Wizard for tricking her into casting a harmful spell on some animals and, by and large, for lying to the people of Oz about himself. The Wizard’s response? “Truth is whatever the people want. Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that are not true.” Elphaba is disgusted with his easy capitulation.
I find that strangely heartwarming. While Wicked and other contemporary stories blur the lines between good and evil, they also point out something the Bible affirms: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) And though there is great confusion in that story between good and evil, it is clear in at least one instance that people cannot and do not want to live in a world where truth is absolutely relative (irony intended). In that kind of world, justice suffers and people are oppressed. Thus the door opens for the gospel that speaks of grace AND truth that satisfies justice.
So speak up for the truth, and you may find an unexpected hearing. If not, we know that we are on the side of the One who is “The Truth” (John 14:6).
sdg

Encouraging video

September 6, 2013

Here’s a great new song by Rend Collective entitled, “Bring Your Kingdom Here.” My favorite line is, “let the darkness fear.” Too often we, the church, fear the darkness. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection are cause for the darkness to fear the influence of a church driven by that good news.
I needed to hear the message these people are bringing…

sdg

David Wilcox’s “Deeper Still” and the Gospel

April 25, 2013

David Wilcox, a folk singer/songwriter from Asheville, NC, is one of my favorite artists. Though I don’t know his personal spiritual commitments, many of his songs have redemptive themes. This is one of them.
“Deeper Still” (written with Beth Nielsen-Chapman)
In the tears you gave to me, I found a river to an ocean
A concrete sky, and a stone-cold sea; I came to where the emptiness cracked open.
And all my fears came crashing through, and met the fire of my sorrow;
But I found my strength in forgiving you; I never even dreamed how far my heart could go.
To give my life beyond each death from this deeper well of trust; to know that when there’s nothing left,
You will always have what you gave to love.
In this life, the love you give becomes your only lasting treasure.
And what you lose will be what you win, a well that echoes down too deep to measure.
A silver coin rings down that well; you could never spend too much.
A diamond echoes deeper still; and you’ll always have what you gave to love.

What is significant to me about this song is that it affirms what author Timothy Keller has said about forgiveness–it is a loss. There is no way to forgive except by taking that loss. Forgiveness is dying to the right to hold that wrong that you’ve suffered over the person who wronged you. That’s what makes it so hard, and what is so counter-intuitive about it. But the most significant statement in the song is the phrase, “what you lose will be what you win…you’ll always have what you gave to love.” Even when we love and are hurt, though we might think we have lost, we actually win. We win because we have loved. And the love that we give to others, though it may be abused and even rejected, is always ours because we have been changed by that love. When we love, we reflect God because God is love. And even when the love (from him) that we share is spurned, we are held by his love that enables us to love in the first place. Don’t fall into the trap that withholds love because of past hurts. It’s the lie of the Evil One. Love as Christ, who gave his life in love for a most unloving and selfish people, did not only as our example but as our enabling Lover. It will all make sense in the end (Rev. 21).
sdg

Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombing

April 24, 2013

Last week the city of Boston, and really the entire country indirectly, experienced for the first time since 9/11 what for much of the rest of the world is a common occurrence. Terrorists plotted and carried out an attack designed to kill or maim large numbers of innocent people. They succeeded in that goal to a certain degree. There are families who will never see their loved ones again in this life. There are people whose lives will never be the same. The terrorists also intended to spread fear and panic amongst the people of Boston. Terrorists of all kinds want to disrupt “life as usual” and cause people to live in fear. The marathon bombers, in my view, failed miserably in that second goal. The people of Boston came together immediately and, amidst acts of cowardice, demonstrated self-sacrifice, heroism and an understanding of human dignity. The most striking image was that of a man with a cowboy hat who, having already lost one son to combat in Iraq and a second son to suicide as a result of depression over his brother’s death, was at the marathon when the bomb went off. He jumped two fences and, coming across a man whose legs had been blown off, picked him up and found him a wheelchair. As he wheeled the victim to safety, the rescuer, found a major artery that had been severed and literally pinched it off between his fingers, saving the man’s life. That was just one example among dozens or maybe hundreds of other stories. Other cities and countries showed their support. The crowd at a Bruins hockey game sang the national anthem with a passion that would not have happened without this tragedy. (Yankee fans even sang “Sweet Caroline”–you know they’ve always wanted a good excuse to do that). In other words, many of the evil intentions of the terrorists were not fulfilled. In fact, their actions had the opposite effect. Evil actions always do, because evil is at its root stupid. I’m not saying that those who carry out evil are sub-intelligent. I’m saying that evil is rooted in deception, and evildoers become deceived by their own twisted minds. The apostle Paul tells us that in 2 Timothy 3:13 when he says that people will “go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Though it sounds like a depressing prognosis for our world, paradoxically it is in that truth that our hope amidst all of the tragedy of this past week is found. Ultimately, the Biblical principle of the image of God in man and, even more so, the Christian gospel of Christ’s sacrifice for sinful people is the basis of the heroic actions of last week. These truths tell us that, though people’s nature is corrupted by sin, there is hope of redemption. And even in a sin-distorted world, the image of God is still reflected in the people he created. No terrorist can change that.
sdg

Midweek Meditation

April 3, 2013

As I mentioned the book in my sermon on Sunday, I thought I would share a quote from Rosaria Butterfield’s memoir here as well as a review I wrote for the Granite State Reformed Ministers’ Fellowship last week. If you weren’t able to join us for our book discussion last month, it might prompt you to want to read the book or encourage you in some way. On pp. 124-5, speaking out of she and her husband’s joyful and painful experiences in foster care and adoption, Rosaria writes:
“When we read in the book of Romans, ‘And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are
the called according to his purpose’ (8:28), we are not to be Pollyanna about this. Many of the “things” we will face come with the razor edges of a
fallen and broken world. You can’t play poker with God’s mercy–if you want the sweet mercy then you must also swallow the bitter mercy. And what is
the difference between sweet and bitter? Only this: your critical perspective, your worldview. One of God’s greatest gifts is the ability to see and
appreciate the world from points of view foreign to your own, points of view that exceed your personal experience. That is what it means to me to
grow in Christ–to exceed myself as I stretch to him.”
Know that the stretching that you are currently experiencing is God’s powerful and painful call to rest in him and cast your cares on him, for he cares for you.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

Good Friday Meditation

March 29, 2013

This is the way leading to the Father, this the rock, the fold, the key; He is the Shepherd, the Sacrifice; the Door of knowledge, by which entered Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the whole company of prophets, and the pillars of the world, the apostles, and the spouse of Christ; for whom, instead of a dowry, He poured out his own blood, that He might redeem her. –Ignatius of Antioch, AD 107

It is significant that these words, taken from one of Ignatius’ letters to a Christian church, were written as the bishop was on his way to Rome to be martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. “This” refers to Jesus Christ, the way to the Father. How fitting that Ignatius should speak of the One who opened the way to the Father through suffering as he himself was suffering in Christ’s footsteps.
Holy Week has been emphasized in some corners of the church, maybe too heavily, as a time to focus on Christ’s sufferings. It is true that some Christians see Christ on the cross and feel guilty because they have not done enough for him when he did so much for them. This misses the character of the cross as the agent of freedom from the curse of the law through Christ who became a curse for us.
Many other churches, however, in reaction, have tended to avoid observance of Holy Week altogether because it is too “negative.” All that talk of suffering tends to weigh us down. They want to focus solely on the resurrection on Easter Sunday morning and the joy and light it brings.

I contend, however, that without reflecting seriously on the suffering and death of Christ, we risk cheapening the celebration of his resurrection. His resurrection conquered sin and death, but it was his death that paid the price for that sin. His resurrection gave us victory (1 Cor. 15:57), but only because his death was a “sin offering” (Romans 8:3). In focusing on the suffering of Christ during Holy Week we see the heinousness of sin for what it truly is–a death sentence hanging over our heads that could only be overturned by a Death Sentence pronounced on him. As we hear the sayings of Christ on the cross on Good Friday, we agonize over our sin that caused Christ’s agony. As a result, when we gather on Resurrection morning, we revel in the Good News that is truly, richly, dazzlingly good because it is set against the backdrop of what is hideously dark and evil. How can we appreciate the light unless we have experienced the darkness?

Come join us tonight at 6:30 for our service of Tenebrae (darkness) and soak up the good news of the gospel through the confronting of the bad news of our sin. Invite a friend to join you. Nursery is available for children through age 3.

Paul Tripp on Personal Ministry

March 19, 2013

I’m reading Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands and found a wonderful quote by the author, Paul Tripp. He was talking about how we as people tend to “dig in the mound of human ideas” to help solve our problems. We look for a 3 step process for everything. This is reflected in much evangelical preaching. Tripp goes on to say:

“We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. We offer people a Redeemer. In his power, we find the hope and help we need to defeat the most powerful enemies. Hope rests in the grace of the Redeemer, the only real means of lasting change. This is what separates believers from our culture’s psychology. Because it has fundamentally turned its back on the Lord, the world can only offer people some kind of system. It reduces hope to a set of observations, a collection of insights, or steps in a process. We, on the other hand, meet people as they desperately dig and lovingly ask for their shovels. We gently turn them away from the mound, and joyfully turn them to the Man, Jesus Christ. This is the essence of personal ministry.

I’d love to get your thoughts. Why, in your view, is it so important to direct people to a person rather than a process?

sdg