God is Our Refuge

“The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back.” Charles Spurgeon

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1)

The Problem: Life is Hard

Despite the way our culture values “authenticity,” most of us rarely feel comfortable enough to speak honestly and personally about the wounds and pains we carry, the weariness and weakness we feel, the dark thoughts we wrestle with, or the disappointment or frustration with life experienced. While it might be okay to admit generalities like “my life is a mess” or “I’m struggling along,” to say how and why we are fragile or broken, to confess our sins, or to share our burdens seems a bit too far. It can be an awkward moment of transparency in a world of surface-level dialogue.

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John Piper on Not Neglecting Spiritual Refreshment through Nature

God’s Creation is a gift, not merely a resource but a means of our refreshment. In John Piper’s sermon-biography of David Brainerd he briefly compares Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards. He does so in the context of discussing the sufferings Brainerd endured, including regular bouts with depression. While not suggesting a walk removes depression, Piper draws on Edwards and Charles Spurgeon to suggest Brainerd’s neglect of nature likely restricted him from one means of God’s grace to us in our weakness and darkness. Below is an extended quote. With Spring knocking on our doors and with today’s temptation to always reach for our smartphone or the remote, I hope this encourages us to take advantage of God’s Creation for our good and His glory.

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The Pain of Broken Idols & the Path to Finding Hope: Comparing Two Songs

An idol is anything that takes the place of God in our life. They are the things we look to, trust in, and give our allegiance to instead of God. They offer to satisfy the desires of our heart and make us happy, but they never are true to their word. The end of every fling with our idols leads to brokenness, pain, and regret. Every day, we face the choice of giving in to the seductive allure of those idols, or steering clear of them and following after the One who can give joy and who does follow through on His promise to satisfy us and grant us life and joy. To see the power and pain of idols, and to consider where we might find hope, I want to compare and contrast the songs “Vice” by Miranda Lambert and “Ulysses” by Josh Garrels. You can see the full lyrics for each, side-by-side, at the bottom of this post.

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A Timely Book: Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble

As a fan and student of Church History, I love timeless books. Any Christian in any place at any time could pick up John Owen’s Communion with the Triune God and benefit from it. But there’s also great value in timely books, such as Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age.

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Bible Study Tip: Summarize Your Bible Reading

What did you read in the Bible yesterday or today? What did your pastor preach on last Sunday? I know, those are hard questions. It’s not that you weren’t paying attention but we all struggle to remember things we hear and even learn. We listen to sermons and read the Bible and often move on without doing something to help it “stick.”

My point in this post is straightforward. To improve how you reflect on (meditation) and respond to (application) the Bible, try writing out your own short summary of what you just read. Or on Sundays, do this with the sermon and text your pastor preached on.

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A Word on Self-Denial and Fasting

With the start of Lent this week, here are a few quick thoughts on self-denial and fasting.

Like almost any discipline, fasting and self-denial can be misused in various ways.[1]  They can be done without discernment or wisdom, such as fasting from food when you’re not physically healthy. They can be done merely out of ritual and without meaning. They can be viewed legalistically where we use our performance to get something we want from God. All good things are prone to misunderstanding and misuse. Our hope in this guide is that any self-denial through fasting is done meaningfully, purposely, wisely, and graciously.

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What is Lent?

“Each year the season of Lent asks us to embrace a spiritual gravity, a downward movement of soul, a turning from our soul-sufficiency and sinfulness. In such quiet turning, we are humbled and thus made ready to receive from God a fresh and joyous grace.” Bobby Gross[1]

Lent, not to be confused with lint (that fluffy stuff in your dryer vent or jean pockets), is a season within the Church calendar preparing our hearts for Easter. Similar to how Advent each December allows us to meditate on the incarnation leading up to Christmas Day, Lent gives us six weeks to consider Christ’s humility in the wilderness temptation and his human trials as we move towards Good Friday and Easter. During this season, the Christian follows Jesus by pursuing humility in our own life, believing he must come before us. As John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

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What is the Liturgical (Church) Calendar?

“The Church Calendar—also called the Liturgical Year— seeks to redeem our time and space through the seasons of Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. Through readings, prayers, songs, fasts and other practices, these seasons help to reorient our hearts and minds away from the false stories of the world and back toward the one true story of the Bible—the Christian story.”[1]The Village Church

“Over the centuries, the church has fittingly sacralized [set apart] time by means of the liturgical calendar with its practices and celebrations, and we can fruitfully appropriate the pattern in our personal discipleship and devotion.” Bobby Gross[2]

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Lent Reading & Fasting Guide

“Lent invites us into practices where the Gospel is felt in our bodies—in hunger, in longings that go unsatisfied, in wants deferred. And these aren’t just “intellectual” realizations. My growling belly has stories to tell me about who I am and who I’m made for.” James K.A. Smith

Next Wednesday, the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. This time in the Church Calendar carries us to Easter and the Passion Week. Our church has provided a Daily Reading and Weekly Fasting Guide. The daily reading plan focuses on Easter, and then during Passion Week it shifts to the events of Christ’s life from the Gospels.

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Wendell Berry and the Gift of Remembrance

“[Tol Proudfoot] had become an elder of the community, and had recognized his memories, the good ones anyhow, as gifts, to himself and to the rest of us.”[1]

Maybe it’s my small-town upbringing, but I feel at home when reading Wendell Berry’s fictional stories. His characters aren’t larger-than-life heroes or villains but they capture the ordinary, beautiful, flesh-and-blood people I’ve encountered in life. His plots aren’t moved along by intense action, but in their familiarity as true to life stories you might hear at your own family gathering.

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