How God Comforts Us in Our Darkest Days

This is quite a story. It reminded me of my friends, Dustin and Kellie Shramek, who lost their precious son, Owen, about 8 years ago. In the book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, Dustin wrote a chapter about some of the lessons that God taught him–lessons about God, and also lessons about how and how not to minister to those in nearly unbearable grief and pain.

After the book was published, Women Today Radio did a brief interview with Dustin; here’s an excerpt:

How has Jesus sustained you through the dark days?

At first it was hard to see how Jesus was sustaining us through the dark days. Yet deep down I knew that he was. My mother died when I was sixteen, two years after I had become a believer. After her death God lead me to Romans 5:3-5, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Having endured through her death I had come out on the other end with my faith intact and I again had hope that God was for me.

After Owen died my wife, who had not experienced the death of one so close, never believed that she would be able to have joy again. And while I certainly didn’t feel joy, I knew that one day I would. The suffering I had endured through my mother’s death had indeed produced hope. Even though my firstborn was dead I believed that I would again have joy. I had experienced God’s faithfulness and I knew that he would be faithful again.

The text, though, that impacted me the most was 2 Corinthians 7:6, “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” During the first months after Owen’s death we felt very little comfort from God. At times I struggled with anger thinking, “God, I know you are sovereign and so you are the one who brought this about. I accept that, but the least you could do is draw near to us and give us comfort.” On the six month anniversary I was reading through all the e-mails and cards we had received from God’s people and I was reflecting on the help we had received from his people where he was born. Then I read this verse and it dawned on me. God was and is comforting us by the coming of countless brothers and sisters in Christ. Often we don’t feel the warm presence of the Lord in our suffering, but that does not mean he has left us alone. We are a part of the body of Christ and it is through this body that he ministers to us in our darkest days.

(HT: JT)

You Should Sing More

This morning I met with a small group of pastors. At one point I asked the question, "What do you do to regularly refresh yourself in the Lord?" The first response was an honest one. "I don't know. But I'm ready to write down any good answers from the rest of you." Then our worship pastor chimed in and said something that made a lot of sense. He said, "I like to sing throughout the day and just meditate on the words of those songs." He talked about singing and repeating simple choruses as a way of reminding himself of the gospel. I liked his idea a lot. It reminded me of Joe Thorn's words in his book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself:

People sing about the things that capture their hearts and things that give them joy. People sing of heroes, victory, longing, and hope. People even sing as a way to express their sorrow. Does anyone have more reasons to sing than you? As a sinner who has been forgiven, a slave who has been freed, a blind man who has received sight, a spiritual cripple who has been healed--all by the gospel-you have real reasons to be known as a person of song!

I'm curious. What do you do to regularly refresh yourself in the Lord? I'd love to hear from you.

What Will They See this Easter Sunday?

As people enter our doors this Easter Sunday, will they see us as real people worshiping a real Savior? Will they enter a community of grace? Tim Chester, in his excellent book, You Can Change, lists some great questions to discern if your church is a community of grace, and thus attractive to broken, needy sinners.

  • Are people open about their sin or is there a culture of pretending?
  • Is community life messy or sanitized?
  • Are broken people attracted to your community?
  • Is conflict out in the open or is it suppressed?
  • Are forgiveness and reconciliation actively pursued?
  • Do you constantly return to the cross in your conversation, prayers and praise?

There is No Sin That I Have Done

My friend, Eric Schumacher, wrote a great gospel song called, "There is No Sin that I Have Done." It's in LifeWay Worship's "March Madness" event. The song is seeded #2 in their brackets! Please consider voting for it in their Sweet 16 line-up this week, and help spread the word with me. Eric's song is part of an album entitled Merciful to Me which I reviewed earlier here.

Charlie Sheen and Self Worship

With all the media attention given to Charlie Sheen lately, I thought this quote by David Kupelian, in his book, How Evil Works, was very insightful:

Human beings were never made to be worshiped ... Worship does extremely weird things to human beings ... Worship destroys us and drives us mad.

I'm not pointing the finger at Charlie Sheen. All of us are in great danger when we begin to think we are something special. And like Sheen, when we're drugged up on praise we can grow increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. We worship ourselves, and this is not only sinful--it's satanic in nature.

Chuck Lawless in his excellent book, Discipled Warriors, compares the pride of Satan and the humility of Jesus from Isa. 14:13-14 and Phil. 2:5-11.

  • Satan chased after glory and power … Jesus walked away from glory and power
  • Satan wanted to ascend to a throne … Jesus descended to earth
  • Satan tried to be God … Jesus became a human
  • Satan wanted to be master … Jesus became a servant
  • Satan was cast down for his pride … Jesus was exalted for his humility

James Boice describes the scene this way.  "Satan said, I will go up … up … up and God said, “You will be cast down, down, down into hell.” And Jesus said, “I will go down to the cross."  And God said, “You will be exalted and given the name that is above every other name.”

The truth is that all of us were made to worship. But humans don't make very good gods. Only God himself can open our eyes to see this truth through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. May he do so for all of us - including Charlie Sheen.

How do you daily disciple your kids?

I think about this question a lot as a family pastor and father of three young kids.  My answer is pretty simple.  Every night before bedtime, I try to gather my kids together and read from a quality Bible storybook or the Bible itself.  I try to ask age-appropriate questions at the end, and then we pray together.  That's it.  Sometimes I'll get out my guitar and we'll sing a few songs.  Other times I'll let my kids draw what they hear from the story and we'll talk about it. This doesn't take a long time, but I'm convinced that over time (by the grace of God) it is perhaps the most important thing I can do to disciple (or spiritually invest into) my kids.  One other thing I'll add ... I'm slowly learning that I do my best parenting on my knees in prayer.  Take a look at this post to learn a simple way to pray for your kids daily.

Kids Music That Makes You Wanna Throw Up

Tony Kummer:

I loved this post from Tim Challies today where he recommends some solid Christian music for kids. Among others, he lists some of my favorites. These include Seeds Family Worship and Sovereign Grace Music.

What makes his post so great is the example of bad worship music.

Here's the video he pointed to.  I can't believe this is an actual kids worship song!  Crazy!

How to Come to Church: Eager, Expectant, Early

A good, needed word from Josh Harris about how to come to church: 1. Come Eager to sing to him, fellowship with other Christians, hear his word. 2. Come Expectant that he will speak, change us and refresh us. 3. Come Early —not walking in late, but in our seats and ready to go [when the service starts].

Eager, Expectant, and Early from Covenant Life Church on Vimeo.

How Singing Helps Life Together

Guest post by: Eric Schumacher At Reformed Praise, David Ward is half-way through a series of posts on "What the Bible Has to Say About Singing" from Colossians 3:16.

In his third post, David highlights the fact that "Singing is a COMMUNITY Activity." He writes:

As we sing to one another, encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ with the precious truths of God’s works and ways, we bring glory to God. He has designed singing as a wonderful way for those who are strong in the gospel to encourage those who are weak as they give witness with their lips and body to the reality and power of what they are singing about. Even as a song leader, I have had many mornings where I was inwardly struggling to believe and appropriate the gospel. God often uses the sound and the posture of the congregation to help get my attention off of myself and my individual spiritual walk and be encouraged at His work amongst our entire congregation.

Read the rest here.

Helping Families Worship at Home

Tony Kummer recently interviewed Jason Houser from Seeds Family Worship-a group of musicians that create Bible saturated worship resources for families.  In this conversation, they talk about how their music can help families in your church. Then Jason offers some tips for family worship. We use the Seeds CD's at home and at church.  In fact, we even named our Wednesday night ministry SEEDS! We love this ministry and encourage you to check it out.

Great New Album: Merciful to Me

My friend, Eric Schumacher, in collaboration with David Ward (and others) through the ministry of Reformed Praise, just released their latest album, Merciful to Me. It was co-produced by David Ward and Steve Cook (of Sovereign Grace Music). It contains the vocals of Devon Kauflin, Shannon Harris, Jake Armerding, Lucia Newell, and others, as well as a host of great instrumentalists from around the country. The 13 tracks are an eclectic mix of styles, including bluegrass, pop, classic jazz, driving rock, and orchestral arrangements. This album is rich in the deep realities of the gospel.  I especially enjoyed the song, There is No Sin That I Have Done.  I found myself literally stopping and resting in the finished work of Christ.  My Worship Pastor, Benjamin Brainard, also reviewed the album and gave this recommendation:

This CD has been encouraging to my soul and is filled with lyrics that enjoy the full realm of the Christian life.  I think of Sovereign Grace, Sandra McCracken, Fernando Ortega, Indelible grace, Red Mountain Church, CD’s when I hear this.  Some songs are meant for contemplation, and others for congregational worship.  I do enjoy the stylistic variance throughout the CD.  If you want a CD to worship to, or to be encouraged by, compliment your collection with this one.

You can preview all 13 tracks here ...

Musical Unity in the Church

Pastor Tullian:

So, we miss out on some great things God intends for us to enjoy when we separate in worship according to musical tastes. The idea to do this comes, not from the Bible, but from American consumerism and we adopt this practice to our own peril.

As my friend Steven Phillips rightly says, we ought to use the best music, prayers, and traditions of our Christian past, so that our worship is guided and enriched by our fathers in the faith. In doing this we demonstrate that our Christian faith reaches back thousands of years. And we ought also to use the best new songs and styles – to “sing a new song to the Lord” as the Psalms say – so that we can demonstrate that the grace of God is ever new. God’s saving power is available now, in the present day, to all who call on Him in faith.

By musically blending things in this way we  exercise love toward those who resonate with different musical tastes than us. We recognize that our worship service is a shared time and a shared space, so that if a particular song or style doesn’t inspire us, we can still look across the sanctuary and give thanks from our hearts for the diversity of people who are here. The gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to look across the aisle and say, “Though this song or style may not appeal to me, I see that God is using it to move you. I love you in Christ and I’m glad you’re here.”

(HT: Z)

Remembering Children in Your Sermon Planning

As we think about all the types of people we preach to on Sundays, don't forget the children.  They may be the biggest group of unreached people in your church...and I guarantee when you get on their level, the adults will be tracking right there with you.  Spurgeon once said:

...He is no preacher who does not care for the children.  There should be at least a part of every sermon and service that will suit the little ones.  It is an error which permits us to forget this.

~ Charles Spurgeon, Spiritual Parenting, 15.

The Sweet Spot

Brent Thomas: [Our] Community Groups are made up of three spheres, “Communion,” “Community” and “Mission.” We first saw this diagram in Hugh Halter and Matt Smay’s book The Tangible Kingdom, and it made a lot of sense to us. Halter and Smay define “communion” as our connection with God; worship, both personal and corporate. Community is life together and mission is being focused outward, on others. Our Community Groups aim to be the intersection of all three, the “sweet spot.” It is when all three of these spheres intersect, that Halter and Smay say the kingdom becomes “tangible” for people. 

Community Groups are meant to be a context in which we can aim for the intersection of each sphere, where communion, community and mission so inform our lives that the kingdom becomes tangible. This means that they are not just small-group bible studies. They are that, but they are more. They are not just social gatherings. They are that, but they are more. They are not just service projects. They are that, but they are more. Community Groups at Church of the Cross are small families of learning, serving missionaries where we learn to live everyday life with Gospel intentionality.

Tenth Avenue North

Recently I've been listening to Tenth Avenue North's album, Over and Underneath.  I love it.  It's one of the most earthy and honest albums I've heard in awhile.  I found myself identifying with their brokenness and earnest desire to experience the love of Christ.  These guys get the gospel!  Here's why they did this record: "[These] carefully penned psalms are coming from a group of individuals who don't have it all together, who desperately want to know truth, and who aren't afraid to admit that they struggle to believe it ... our hope is that amidst all the words, notes and musical mayhem, you would encounter Christ.  Encounter him.  Not just hear about him, not just sing about him, but truly, sincerely encounter him."  If you don't have this album, I encourage you to get it and pre-order their new album, The Light Meets the Dark (listen to individual track downloads here).