Thanksgiving In (Not in Spite Of) Suffering

thanksgiving in sufferingNote: This is reposted from last year.  Happy Thanksgiving!  

Although there were many Thanksgiving feasts and observances throughout the United States for almost two and a half centuries before Lincoln, the nationally recognized holiday that we will soon celebrate was put into place in the middle of the Civil War.  President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863, while the war was raging and the country was truly divided.  While citizens were becoming widows and orphans daily, Secretary of State William Steward wrote:  “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Even in the midst of great pain and hardship, they were recognizing what 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 commands:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  One of the ways that they gave thanks in all circumstances, even horrible ones such as civil war, was by looking to blessings that God had given:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…

They were looking for God’s good providence and for things to be thankful for, so that God would be praised no matter what, recognizing that He is the giver of all good things (James 1:17).   I recently taught a Bible study on Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…”  The word “granted” is the same word used in Romans 8:32 about God graciously giving us all things:  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”  We expect God to “graciously give” us blessings, but we often don’t understand how suffering could be a grace gift.

One answer is because God uses it all.  Nothing is wasted in God’s providence.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)  This is why the Apostle Paul could write, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings…” (Col. 1:24).  As our Senior Pastor preached on Colossians 1:24-29 recently, he asked, “Who talks like this?  Rejoicing in our sufferings?  Christians do!”

We can bubble over with genuine thanksgiving at any time if we look to the blessings God has given us, even if mixed with suffering.  Our God is both sovereign and good.  He is the God who promised Romans 8:28, a promise that rests on the bedrock of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Blessings.  Thanksgiving.  Hope.  Even in Civil War.

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Gaze Upon the LORD Even When You Feel Like You Will Be “Eaten”

Paul David Tripp recently helped me to keep my focus where it should be during the storms of life, firmly on the LORD of glory, as I listened to a sermon from Psalm 27.  I think Psalm 27 will help you too.  Here are 4 practices we need to do daily.
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1) Gaze
It appears that David wrote Psalm 27 either when he was in a cave hiding for his life from King Saul, or running for his life during his son Absalom’s grab at the kingdom.  When David wrote, “When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh…” (Ps. 27:2a), he literally may have had an army encamping against him (Ps. 27:3a).  It can’t get much more dire than your enemies breathing down your neck, like hungry wild dogs who want to eat your flesh.

What would you ask for if you could ask the LORD for anything if you were in a similar situation?  Maybe for weapons?  If you were honest, maybe for a bomb that would wipe your enemies out, or for the situation to simply change radically–like being beamed right out of the problem to another location?  Listen to what David asks for: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.” (Ps. 27:4)

2) Remember
 When we gaze upon the beauty of the LORD, we are not only reminded of who God is, but also who we are.  We have a new identity as His child.  The LORD is not just “light” and “salvation,” He is my light and my salvation!  Because of this personal truth, David can exclaim, “Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1)

3) Rest
Resting in the LORD is not a passive activity, but a vigorous spiritual activity.  We can rest because we continue in the fight of faith.  This gives our hearts rest and hope: “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.” (Ps. 27:3)

4) Act
After gazing upon the beauty of the LORD, remembering who He is and thus who we are as His children, and resting in Him, we can then act with great hope and courage when the time comes: “…be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14)

This One of glorious beauty has been connected to you by faith.  Because of Christ, we can be confident and hopeful even when we feel like we will be “eaten”!

HT: These main points are from a wonderful message by Paul David Tripp given at the Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors, “Living the Gospel That You Preach.”  You can listen to it for free here.

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The Preparation of the Sermon

20141008_111221Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”  I continue to plod, learn, and be encouraged–chapter by chapter.

The picture above is one of the reasons that I am reading and blogging about Preaching and Preachers.  I received this note today from a Kindergartner in our church.  We too often forget that preaching impacts everyone in the church–even 5 year olds.  As you can see, she wrote, “Dear Pastor, Thank you for preaching the God.”  That is what Lloyd-Jones is trying to help us do better.

Lloyd-Jones turns from the personal preparation of the preacher (as a man growing in Christ), to the preparation of the actual sermon in Chapter 10, “The Preparation of the Sermon.”  The importance of this topic cannot be overstated.  As Lloyd-Jones explains, “Preaching prepares the way for all the other activities of a minister.” (199)

I appreciate how Lloyd-Jones shows a dependence on the Spirit of God for leading to a particular preaching text, while also strongly advocating series that preach through a book of the Bible.  He not only advocates this dependence on the Spirit during normal seasons, but also during holidays when people’s hearts are more tender, or during exceptional times in the community like a great tragedy.  “Though you may have planned out the greatest series of sermons the world has ever known, break into it if there is an earthquake!  If you cannot be shaken out of a mechanical routine by an earthquake you are beyond hope!” (207)

Although Lloyd-Jones personally preferred regular preaching through a book of the Bible, he is eager to tie preachers back to the Word even when not preaching a series.  “The matter should always be derived from the Scriptures, it should always be expository.” (210)  One way to do this, is to ask questions in the preparation of the sermon.  Why did he say that?  Why did he say it in this particular way?  “One of the first things a preacher has to learn is to talk to his texts.  They talk to you, and you must talk to them.  Put questions to them.” (215)

We do not want to be guilty of preaching our own theological pets or our own advice.  We need to preach the Word of God!  “I cannot overemphasize the importance of our arriving at the main thrust, the main message of our text.  Let it lead you, let it teach you.  Listen to it and then question it as to its meaning, and let that be the burden of your sermon.” (217)

Kindergartners can understand this.  My little friend in our church family hit it right on the head: “Thank you for preaching the God.”  I will only preach the true God as I preach His Word, His gospel.  As the Apostle Paul exclaims, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

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Another Reminder of Why I Love Camp Ministry

I have had the privilege of being the Junior Camp (5th-7th Grade) speaker this week at Camp Gilead.  gilead gold rushIt has been such a joy to teach God’s Word and preach the gospel to over 100 campers all week long.  My kids have also been having a blast.  It is so fun to see my kids enjoying many of the same things that I did when I was a camper: the Camp Gilead train, the pool, and laughing at the kids during the game times.  Here are some of the highlights of the week:

  • Seeing the Lord’s faithfulness at Camp Gilead.  My grandpa was involved in Camp Gilead as a pastor 50 years ago, and my mom attended as a little girl.  I went to Family Camp for 8 years and then worked here as a Counselor and Head Counselor for 4 entire summers during college.  This is my 3rd time to be a speaker for a week.  Each time I have come back, friendships with the full-time Staff are renewed, and I am encouraged by their gospel faithfulness and commitment to God’s Word!
  • Preaching to the campers.  Each morning chapel we have been looking at Solomon’s life, and learning what it means to follow the path of the righteous rather than the path of the wicked (from the book of Proverbs).  The theme this summer is “Gold Rush” from Proverbs 16:16, “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!”  In the evening chapels we have been looking at who Jesus is.  In Jesus are “…are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)
  • Seeing 10 or 15 campers each of the last 2 nights stay after chapel to talk to their counselor about salvation.  Some children have asked Jesus to be their Savior this week!  That is worth all of the effort that goes into camp ministry!  We have also seen Christian campers being encouraged in their faith.
  • Seeing kids have fun.  It’s refreshing to see kids just being kids, having a great time dirtboarding, doing team competitions, mini golf, and even playing on the playground. In today’s world, kids need time to just be kids…and to focus on Jesus during the same week is an incredible opportunity!
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Alisha Friberg (counselor), from our church, sharing her testimony in chapel.

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Part of the “welcome wagon” on Monday!

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One cabin gets to sleep in this covered wagon and roast marshmallows outside each night.

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Alisha with her cabin.

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My friend Josh, the Maintenance Director, and I–I mean, Prospectors Pete & Paul–before teaching a Proverb at the start of each morning chapel.

Enjoy the pictures, and thanks for praying for this week!
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Come Along for a Summer Drive of Ministry!

A Congregational Meeting Report from Tim Counts, Pastor of Family Ministries, Immanuel Bible Church, Summer 2014

Will you come along with me for a summer drive? It’s a ride full of excitement, activity, and growth, but there are also many quiet moments of worship. Go ahead, buckle up, and I pray that seeing the Lord’s hand throughout the summer will move you to worship too!

Take a look in the rearview mirror. The summer started out for Family Ministry with PNAMU (Parent Night And Move Up), 10354738_330504107102031_8047478133074752950_na warm night in early June when parents and teenagers packed into our Youth Center to congratulate our graduating Seniors and play kickball together. Justin Reeves, our Middle School Coordinator, welcomed 10 new 6th Graders into our Middle School Ministry that night. I also held a meeting with parents while the youth were in Bible Study, focusing on purity resources for parents and teens.

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Vacation Bible School was the next major turn in the road, keeping Hilleary Sorenson, our Children’s Ministry Coordinator, busy. Immanuel hosted over 160 children throughout the week! We had about 100 Immanuel volunteers involved in some aspect of VBS. I summed up our week of VBS by say10428680_337456393073469_7726574387131980709_ning, “As a dad, thank you for loving my kids in such a Christ-like way. As a pastor, thank you for representing Christ so well to each child and family who came through our doors.” With as many children as the Lord has blessed us with at Immanuel, Hilleary has been doing other projects this summer such as opening up an additional nursery room for during Sunday Worship Services.

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The next turn was a sharp curve, as the week following VBS Immanuel sent a team of 5 High Schoolers and 5 adults to El Mirage, Arizona to help IBC missionaries Steve and Ruth Wilson. They held VBS, did work projects, and encouraged the young church through fellowshipping with the members and holding a special evening together with the youth ministry. I love how we strive to serve together as a church at Immanuel. We purposefully never called this a High School Mission Trip. I was thrilled to see 5 of our High Schoolers serving next to 5 adults from our church, some of whom did not know each other before.

arizona team 2014  arizona crafts

The last stop I want you to see in the rearview mirror is the one we took in San Diego, attending Camp Regeneration for the second time. It was another phenomenal week of fun, fellowship, worship, preaching, and even salvation. 10345826_362096433942798_6835289046598466938_nThis is what one of our High Schoolers said about his time of spiritual growth at Camp Regen: “as we continue ahead on this long, steadfast road, we can always look in our rearview mirror to see the memories we had at Camp Regeneration.  But, now, more importantly, we journey ahead toward the gates of Heaven where evil will be no more and where the good LORD prevails over all.”

 

10403433_365088750310233_7280110258558391790_n                   1908372_363497460469362_740389996751901274_n1551712_362333217252453_5837487520667561796_nYou can stop looking in the rearview mirror now and take a look at the journey Family Ministry is currently on. Any Sunday morning in August you can find us in the basement going through a book on how to study the Bible with parents and teenagers together, as we have been doing all summer. Ross LakeBut look over there at that sparkling lake! Justin Reeves, the Middle School Leaders, several parents, and 12 Middle Schoolers are on our Middle School Backpacking Trip in the Ross Lake wilderness area. They are being exposed to God’s creation up close, enjoying fellowship together, and thinking on how those who walk with Jesus are the ones who are “like a tree planted by streams of water…” (Psalm 1:3) Will you pray for them with me?

I am taking a week long detour to Camp Gilead 1040405_213260985493011_1222511728_oin Carnation, WA at the moment, preaching the gospel and teaching God’s Word to 200 5th-7th Graders, including nine Immanuel kids. This is the camp where Alisha Friberg has been a counselor all summer, and where a young lady very involved in ministry in our church and community was saved as a Middle Schooler.

Will you pray that the Lord will work in hearts, through His Word?

Lastly, let’s take a moment to look at the road ahead. By God’s grace, you can see a Marriage Retreat at Semiahmoo Resort with Dr. John Street page223_picture0_53dc005eeb94fon the horizon in October, and even before that, a six week adult Sunday School class on marriage. If you squint, you can see our Middle and High Schoolers doing a service project together on a Saturday later this Fall. There will be other ministry events, marriage counseling, a sermon on God’s call in parenting, perhaps a baby dedication, and even a wedding at Immanuel November 15! But Family Ministry is just one vehicle on this road. In fact, if you take a closer look, it is just one section of a giant bus that we are all on together, as the body of Christ at Immanuel. And, in the words of one of our High Schoolers, we know where this road is headed. “We journey ahead toward the gates of Heaven where evil will be no more and where the good LORD prevails over all.”

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An Open Letter to Immanuel Bible Church VBS Volunteers

Dear Immanuel VBS Volunteers:

One of my greatest joys as the Pastor of Family Ministries at Immanuel is to work so closely with so many volunteers in ministries within our church. From Sunday School to Children’s Church to childcare to Awana to Indoor Park to Good News Club to Middle and High School Ministries to even parenting and marriage ministries, your joy in serving the Lord is contagious. And VBS this week was no exception!

It is one thing to volunteer simply to fill a spot, but it is quite another thing to minister to others out of an overflow of love for Jesus because of a deep commitment to the truth of God’s Word and the gospel. The children know the difference. The families can tell the difference. And I witnessed the grace and truth of Christ pouring out of your lives this week as you served the One who said, “Let the little children come to me.”

Gotta MoveIt is only in pulling together as the body of Christ that VBS can happen and have any lasting fruit. In addition to those of you who prayed at your jobs or homes or brought snacks, there were about 100 of you when all was said and done from last Sunday until Friday afternoon who were here at least one day if not all six days.

Under the excellent leadership of Hilleary Sorenson, our Children’s Ministry Coordinator, you decorated, coordinated, planned, cooked, cleaned, served food, did tech work, took pictures, shepherded children from station to station, took care of the babies of other volunteers, led crafts, led games, taught on missions and evangelism, led songs and motions, danced, taught God’s Word, prayed, and simply loved children and families in a way that reflected Christ! I saw the fruit of the Spirit pouring out of your lives this week as you served with the strength and the joy that God provides.

Let’s pray together that the gospel will continue to bear fruit in the 160 children (and their families) touched through VBS this week! As a dad, thank you for loving my kids in such a Christ-like way. They had a blast and I already see fruit in their lives because of this concentrated time of fellowship, fun, worship, and teaching. As a pastor, thank you for representing Christ so well to each child and family who came through our doors.

As we think back on a blessed week of VBS, join with me in praying, “…to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” (Eph. 3:21)

For the fame of Jesus in all generations,
Pastor Tim

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The (Week In, Week Out) Preparation of the Preacher

preacher studying

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”  I continue to plod, learn, and be encouraged–chapter by chapter.

Lloyd-Jones turns to “The Preparation of the Preacher” in Chapter Nine, meaning how a preacher prepares himself personally (apart from specific sermon preparation, which will be the next chapter) week in and week out to preach.  He covers the areas of self-discipline, prayer, Bible reading, and other reading–all areas that are helpful to any Christian to consider now and then.

Self-Discipline
It is important for a preacher to have self-discipline because of generally having more control of his schedule than other jobs.  Lloyd-Jones is not saying that this is because a pastor has too much free time, but rather that he must be self-disciplined with the time he has because the demands of ministry will take away the time needed for study for preaching otherwise!  His recommendation is to safeguard the mornings for study and use the afternoons for other ministry responsibilities, but he also gives great wisdom in encouraging each pastor to personally realize what time of day he is most effective in study.

Prayer
Surprisingly, but refreshingly for a “spiritual giant,” Lloyd-Jones does not say that a pastor must begin prayer at 4am or he has not done his duty.  But of course, he encourages times set aside for regular prayer.  The most helpful nugget to me in this section was the recommendation to always respond to every impulse to pray.  As he explains, “The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text.  I would make an absolute law of this–always obey such an impulse.  Where does it come from?  It is the work of the Holy Spirit…So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy.  Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing, but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect.” (182-183)

This is one of the great privileges of being a pastor that we may miss if we are not reminded that it is indeed a privilege.  When I worked as a Sales Rep during seminary, there were countless moments of quick prayer in my heart.  But I never could have stopped what I was doing and spent even a minute in concentrated prayer because then I would not have been doing my job.  The pastor, on the other hand, can pray, and pray often.  Some of the most intimate times of personal prayer and worship have been when I have been studying for a sermon, and suddenly the truth of what I have been seeing in God’s Word will explode in my heart in praise.  Surely this should be expected.  God’s Word should move us to worship.  But Lloyd-Jones encourages us to go with it–to actually stop and pray when those moments come.

Bible Reading
Lloyd-Jones’ main advice is to read the Bible systematically so that you do not only read favorite sections of Scripture.  He also recommends that all preachers read through the whole Bible in its entirety at least once every year.  There is another invaluable nugget in this section of Chapter Nine: while Lloyd-Jones says to not read the Bible to find texts for sermons–but rather because it is the food that God has provided for your soul, he also strongly recommends stopping and making skeleton outlines of sermons when a passage hits you hard or opens up while you read.  There is wisdom from years of preaching here: “A preacher has to be like a squirrel and has to learn how to collect and store matter for the future days of winter.” (185)

Reading for the Soul
In addition to Bible reading, Lloyd-Jones insists that other reading is necessary for a preacher to stay sharp and educated, to get wisdom, and to hone his thinking skills.  This is a constant, and he acknowledges that it is a constant battle to find time to read in addition to Bible reading, sermon prep, prayer, and other ministry duties.  He recommends the Puritans (especially Richard Sibbes) for devotional reading, as well as regular reading in theology, church history, biographies, and even personal reading in other areas such as history or science.

I am thankful for Lloyd-Jones’ continued practical advice and encouragement to pray without ceasing, and to make time for Bible reading and other books.  All of this is not to make a pastor puffed up, but to keep him fresh and growing. “The preacher is not meant to be a mere channel through which water flows; he is to be more like a well.” (192)  There are always many things crying for a pastor’s attention, but to use another analogy, the blade must be polished and sharpened constantly.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

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