How Do You Begin Your Day?

Much has been written and discussed about technology’s encroachment on our lives. I’ve been greatly aided by friends who have looked at this problem with a theological eye (Note Tim Challies book, The Next Story and Al Mohler’s many blogposts on the subject). Most agree that computers, tablets, smart phones, and social media are not going away. In fact, we can expect the avalanche to get bigger (Have you chosen your circles for Google+ yet?).

This has made me think a lot as we stand on the porch of a new year. Kim and I have been talking about what Bible reading plan we are going to use this year. If you are undecided, Justin Taylor has some helpful options. And thinking about a new year of Bible reading has made me reconsider my schedule, which is always a humbling reflection of my priorities.

Looking back over the habits I’ve formed over the past year has, well, deeply disappointed me. The question I am asking myself is what is the first leaning of my heart when I wake up. I remember hearing C.J. Mahaney explain the battle he faces each morning when he wakes up and attacking his flesh with prayer at his first waking moment. I think we are all on the same battlefield.

So what is the first thing you do when you wake up? Here’s my problem. I find it easy to grab my iPhone and check my email, glance at social media notifications, see if there are any texts awaiting a response, and look at the news and sports feeds. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing these things. But my problem is that this is much easier and feels more urgent when I awake than addressing the thirst of my soul for God.

Back to the question, what is the first concern of your day?

I’m not much on New Year’s resolutions, but this is one area I want to focus on this year. Is there a better way to begin the day than with the thought of God? Maurice Roberts writes:

The thought of God should be the Christian’s panacea. It should cure all ills at a stroke. And what an infinity there is in the thought of God! Nothing can approach in beauty to the idea of the true and living God. That there exists a Being who is infinite in power, knowledge and goodness, that that Being cares for me with a perfect love as though I were the only man in existence, that He loved me before I was born and created me to enjoy Him eternally and that He sent his Son to suffer the agony of the cross to secure my eternal happiness—that, surely must be the thought to end all sorrow.

My prayer for my own soul, and yours, is that we develop the discipline of beginning the day with the thought of God, fed by the Word of God, for the glory of God, and enjoy the grace of God for our days.

Here are a few simple suggestions for starting your day before you even get out of bed.

  1. Pray. Ask God for His grace to motivate you to approach this day as His holy child and faithful ambassador.
  2. Think. Even before you begin this new day, revisit what you learned of God and the gospel yesterday. This will begin a chain link of Godward thinking.
  3. Plan. How will you prioritize your reading of God’s Word today? Hopefully, this plan has already been made. But making a fresh commitment before your feet hit the ground to execute that plan will greatly increase your control over your day.
  4. Say “No!” Every morning will bring new opportunities to do things other than spiritual disciplines. Learn to say “No!” to those things because you have another set of commitments to do before getting to them.

Much more could be said. You can add your comments below to help us in the discipline of beginning the day. For 2012, I want to have better beginnings to my days. I hope you do too.

Let me admit from the beginning that I am incurable Enfield fan. I know each of the members of this band and can personally attest to their spiritual maturity and love for Christ. I also had the privilege of working with them in ministry for many years and heard their musical gifts each week. So when I knew they were putting together a Christmas album, I had high hopes. Those hopes were exceeded.

Some of these arrangements we have been hearing for a few years around Christmas as they led in musical worship. But this is way beyond that. For me, this is the perfect combination of musicianship, orchestration, arrangement, godly musicians, and an on-ramp for worshiping Jesus, God of God. It was produced by Brian Steckler, producer of Enfiled’s album O For That Day.

What follows is not a formal review. In fact it is unashamedly positive. It is simply a personal review for me to express what I love about this album. I hope you enjoy the project as much as I do. I would encourage you to purchase a CD or download it soon.

1.     Angels From the Realms of Glory

This opening song is a classic Enfield recipe. They take a song that is familiar, add fresh orchestration, put in a new chorus and bridge, and throw in a great guitar solo. Wonderfully old and entirely new… at the same time. The use of strings in concert with contemporary instrumentation gives this song (and all their work) a contemporary and timeless feel. John and Lisa Martin’s tight harmonies remind me of God’s sweet providence in their marriage that transfers uniquely into their music. Lisa’s sliding, melodic harmonies just make you smile. Listen for the swelling crescendos, punchy syncopation, tight phrasing, and some great playing.

2.     God of God

Leave it to Ryan Foglesong to find an old hymn and make it sound like it was written yesterday. The theology of this piece should drop any believer to his knees in worship or stand him on his tiptoes in exultation. Beautiful strings give a soft step to the marching cadence of this anthem. The break when John sings, “O God of God” (with an acoustic guitar backdrop), aptly captures the album’s title. You can sense he believes in the incarnation with that vocal. David Zimmer’s drums pull you along like a narrator of the story of the Savior’s birth. Being unfamiliar with this song worked to my advantage because it accented the words. Catchy melody, great theology, well orchestrated. I really like this song.

3.     Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

This is such a fun song to listen to and sing along with. The opening strings are huge. And they should be. Few Christmas carols are as rich in incarnational theology as this one. The string intro sets the table for the greatness of the lyrics. And the way the tambre drops as the vocals come in, very cool. David’s kit work is amazing in this song. I hear something new from the drums every time I listen to it. You’ve got to love the “Joy to the World” bridge into the key change… very cool. But the coolest part of this song is the way they use pizzicato to underlay the phrase, “Mild He lays His glory by.” This will be a classic on my iPod for years to come.

4.     Who is He in Yonder Stall?

I love this carol because it speaks of Christ’s whole life, not just His nativity. And Lisa sings it as a vocal biography of the Lord she loves. This time it’s John who adds the harmony. The acoustic guitar sets the mood so well in this song. The orchestration is deliberately understated which adds to the drama of the lyrics.

5.     O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Wil’s dissonant Mandolin intro melody invites the minor key that has always made this song sound like it’s supposed to, a longing for the Messiah.  Add to that Nick Brown’s electric guitar and the wistful violin fills and you have a haunting mood. This arrangement creates magnetism to John’s excellent voicing of the lyrics. The intended forlorn of the lyric is captured by the creativity of the orchestration. Superb interpretation of this song!

6.     Glory to God on High

The driving back beat and great percussion by David and Ryan make you want to hear this song from the opening measures (listen for an amazing drum fill at 2:02!). The key change works as well in this tune as any I know. You get the full range of John’s voice on this track. Wow is he gifted!

7.     O Come All Ye Faithful

This carol is on everyone’s favorites list. I think that is what makes it so special on this album. The familiarity presents a challenge to bring something new to the table. But, Enfield pulls it off. The changes in rhythm keep it interesting. And the new bridge is a welcome addition, both lyrically and musically.

8.     God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen

Okay, this is my favorite track on God of God. The layers of creativity are so cool on this song. Great acoustic grove to begin with, and the electric guitar fill between the verses sounds just, traumatic. The gang vocal in this song is just plan fun! I could listen to the last 1:16 of this song over and over without pause. This is what the B3 Hammond organ was made for. The way Scott Frankfurt resolves the Asus-to-A makes me smile every time! My iTunes says tells me I’ve listened to this one the most.

9.     Go Tell It on the Mountain

I have to admit, this carol has never been one of my favorites… until now. I think it reminded me of my 2nd grade Sunday School class concert. David lays down a waterfall of percussion and Ryan turns his bass into a lead instrument on this track. There is more going on in the rhythm section of this song than happens from the lead of most other songs. Listen for some really cool piano licks.

10.  What Child is This?

I’ve never heard this carol quite like this. What I mean is that it sounds like John is singing the meaning more than the words. The intro violin sits you in a Middle Eastern stable looking through flickering light wondering “What child is this in Mary’s lap?” The highlight of this song for me is the dramatic harmonies Lisa adds (especially from 3:13-30, gives me chills every time). A minor key has never sounded so sweet.

11.  Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming

I’m not sure where to even start on this song. This is a beautiful vocal tribute to Jesus by Lisa. I’ve tried to count how many tracks are laid down in this harmony stack, and stopped trying. Great lyrics, amazing vocals. One of the most creative tracks on the album.

12.  O Holy Night

This song is usually arranged for a huge and dramatic crescendo from a tenor. Make no mistake, you will hear John’s gifted tenor voice. But it is so wonderfully understated that appropriate attention is drawn to the lyrics. Less is more here. Sweet, soft harmonies by Lisa blend into a staircase for worship. The string arrangement in the break is simply beautiful.

13.  Silent Night

Is it possible to have a Christmas album without this tune? Like others, the familiarity of this carol make a new rendition challenging. But the slight change in melody is really nice. The piano adds a fresh level of interest from the beginning. John’s voice finds its softer side with wonderful control and intensity. This song makes you want to sit by the fire and talk about the birth of King Jesus.

The Preaching Moment

Another week means two more sermons for me to prepare. And that means the weekly ritual of opening my Bible, clicking on the Logos program on the Mac, and grabbing my favorite fountain pen and the familiar canary legal pad.

It’s amazing that after doing this thousands of times, the first thought that comes into my mind as I start is, “Now what am really doing and how am I actually going to do it?”

Word studies, diagrammatical analysis, Greek and Hebrew, homiletical outlines, illustrations, introductions and conclusions, applications, implications, transitions, titles… sermon prep is not for that faint of heart or the lazy of spirit. But I have to admit that I love it. Really, it is my favorite part of my “job.”

But it is far easier to forget what the design of preaching is than I would like to admit. In the book The Salvation of Souls, George Marsden provides this insightful context and quote from the preaching Jonathan Edwards:

In the midst of debates over the Great Awakening, Edwards, made a revealing comment about the effects of preaching. During intense periods of awakenings, evangelists often preached to the same audience daily, or even more frequently. Opponents of the awakening argued that people could not possibly remember what they heard in all these sermons. [Jonathan] Edwards, responded that ‘The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.’  Preaching, in other words, should be designed primarily to awaken, to shake people out of their blind slumbers in the addictive comforts of their sins. Though only God can give them new eyes to see, preaching should be designed to jolt the unconverted or the converted who doze back into their sins (as all do) into recognizing their true estate.”

George M. Marsden, The Salvation of Souls (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2002), 11-12.

I think I understand what Mr. Edwards is saying. The moment of preaching that involves a holy and prepared man with a well-studied and clear message is special. It is live dynamic in which the Spirit of God connects His inspired Word with the listening heart through the preacher’s sermon. Remembering the content of the sermon at a later time is important. But not so much as the gravity of the living God and authority of His Truth in the moment of the sermon.

I don’t think Edwards’ words mitigate against listening to recorded sermons or reading them in print. I praise God for these opportunities. But don’t underestimate the power of sitting in church and hearing a sermon. And if you preach, don’t fail to tremble at the awesome privilege of making an impact on the minds of the congregants with the greatness of God, the sufficiency of His Son, and the preciousness of the Word of God. How we listen to and prepare sermons is of the greatest importance.

With these things in mind, sermon prep is scary, amazing, and a thrill.   Now, back to preparation…

Just two short months ago I preached my first sermon as the senior pastor of Mission Road Bible Church. Many emotions competed in my heart that morning. Joy, excitement, fear, and thankfulness were a few. I will never forget that day. But there is a memory of that morning that will always be “engraved on that pulpit.”

As the music finished our executive pastor, Bob Taylor, gave me a very kind introduction. It was an emotional moment for him. His care for our church and me was evident. At the end of his remarks he informed me that there was a surprise waiting for me on the pulpit. Turns out he had done some research with my former secretary and friend Patti Schott in Los Angeles.

I’ve read of Puritan pulpits that had John 12:21 engraved on them. This is an account of an event that took place the week before our Lord’s crucifixion. He had arrived in Jerusalem and His fame and presence were causing quite a stir. There were some Greek men who had come to worship at the feast who had heard of the amazing Man from Nazareth. Finding Philip, Jesus’ friend and disciple, they made a simple request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” The simplicity of that desire is astounding. And this entreaty captures the demand of the Christian pulpit.

In conversations with Patti, my desire to somehow place this verse on my own pulpit someday leaked out. She in turn passed along my secret wish to Bob Taylor and the MRBC elders. It should be obvious by now what happened.

When Bob called me up to the pulpit, he removed a notebook that had been conspicuously lying on it. There, in the upper corner of the pulpit, one of the church members had beautifully engraved those words, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

This gracious gesture will serve me well. It is a constant reminder that when I stand in that sacred real estate behind the MRBC pulpit, there is nothing more important than preaching with the aim of displaying the glory and wonder of Jesus.

Here is a picture I took of the pulpit with my phone right after I closed that first service…

For those interested, I have written a chapter in Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully (ed. John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2011) on what it means to preach Jesus in every sermon, even though He is not in every text.

Time for Launch

This Sunday (July 31, 2011) will be one of the most important dates of my life. It will mark my first official sermon as the senior pastor of Mission Road Bible Church. Though I accepted the invitation of the church to serve them in this position several months ago, and have even been back to preach a few times since then, this Sunday is really sermon #1 as their shepherd.

The countdown to that 10:15AM service is like waiting on Christmas. I can’t wait to preach to the body Kim and I have already learned to love.

I have chosen to preach on a text that I think might be the most important in the Scriptures for defining the heart, desire, and measure of faithfulness for pastoral ministry. If you want to know what it is… see you Sunday. MRBC’s sermons can be found at our website http://www.missionroadbiblechurch.com/

Please pray for our church and me as we begin this relationship. I’m very excited to begin this chapter of ministry.

This Made Me Cry

Today I drove off the campus of Grace Community Church as I have done thousands of times before. But this time was different. This time, I knew I wouldn’t be coming back, at least not as one of her pastors. We are now in the throws of moving to Kansas City and beginning a new chapter of ministry with Mission Road Bible Church. As of today, I’m officially finished with my responsibilities at GCC.

I did not expect the flood of emotions as I turned right on Roscoe Bld. and headed towards the Hollywood FWY, but wow was I ambushed.

Three decades of ministry and relationships are attached to that piece of real estate in Sun Valley, CA. I love Grace Community Church. It is the place Kim and I met and married. It is the only church our sons have ever known. It hosts The Master’s Seminary where I was trained for ministry. It is where I’ve gained my best friends. It is where I have learned how the church is to function biblically. And most importantly, it is the place that has fed my love for my Lord and Savior, Jesus.

So, I hope you’ll excuse me if my affections overwhelmed me. Oh, and this was not a teary eyed, lump in the throat, try to hide it in a sad movie cry; it was a full on sob. And the immediate reflex of my soul was to thank God for His kindness in letting me serve at Grace. If Paul could have a good cry with the Ephesian elders at the dock of Miletus (Acts 20:37), so could I on the Hollywood FWY onramp.

But now it’s time to look forward. I am so excited about beginning my pastorate at MRBC that I feel like a bottle of Root Beer that’s taken a ride on a jackhammer. The people there in our new Kansas body are special. Very special. They have already adopted us and shown us love that is impossible to describe. And we haven’t even moved there yet!

I am especially excited for Kim and the boys. The women of the church have befriended Kim such that she feels like they have known each other for years. Our boys have become quickly connected to the students in the church and have already made pretty extensive plans for the Fall. And the elders at MRBC have become such gospel partners that I am tempted to well up with tears, again. (Not sure if my man card is going to be threatened after this post.)

All to say, I am blessed man. Blessed to have served at Grace Community and doubly blessed now to serve at Mission Road. And the treasure of all is doing it with my four favorite people.

Time to get to KC and join the gospel work happening there.

After a year and a half, my book Uneclipsing the Son is finally in print. There will be a limited number of copies available at Grace Church this Sunday and then the official release will happen at the Resolved Conference in two weeks. You can order in at a discounted price for the next two weeks at http://www.kressbiblical.com/ and http://www.gbibooks.com/

I want to give thanks to God for the completion of this project and pray that it exalts the Son for His pleasure.

Things are beginning to wind down in my ministry here at Grace
Community Church as I start the transition to become the senior pastor of Mission
Road Bible Church in July. Between now and then there will some significant
“last-time” moments. I had one of them early this morning.

For the last 14 years I have met with a group of men on Tuesday mornings at 6 AM in the basement of the “J Building.” Getting up at 4:30 AM is one thing. But seeing 40 other men do it consistently is quite another. There have been a lot of guys who have been a part of those meetings over the years and this morning provided me the opportunity to look back and thank God for this long line of godly men.

It is impossible to describe the influence of these men and those meetings on me. We have studied, prayed, laughed, and shed tears together. These meetings have been my favorite part of ministry at Grace. King
David wrote: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) I’m not sure there is a better example of this verse than those Tuesday mornings.

We call the group of men who brave the alarm clock on Tuesdays the “A-Team.” The “A” stands for “aspiration.” First Timothy 3:1 says that “if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” The aspiration for godly qualification and spiritual leadership among these men has consistently cured my complacency and motivated my Godwardness. I’ve experienced true accountability and I hope I have provided some in return.

Today we heard from Austin Duncan who is the next Crossroads pastor. I am excited for him and all that he will inherit in these men. And I’m equally excited for what they are going to get from him.

I will miss these men, a lot. But I know they are going to have their own A-Teams soon. It has been one of the joys of my life to do gospel work with them.

Finished My First Book

Quick update.

On Saturday I finished the last chapter of my book Uneclipsing the Son. It’s being published by Kress Biblical Resources and will released in June. I will always be thankful to Rick Kress for publishing it and to Brian Thomasson for doing some hard editorial work. Patti Schott, my secretary, did the unenviable work of typing transcripts of the sermon series that was the foundation of this book.

Now comes the proofing and typesetting. I can see the end of this project and want to thank those of you who prayed for it and encouraged me to turn those sermons into written form.

It should be up on Amazon within the month and will be officially released at the Resolved Conference in June.

I am praying hard that it serves those who read it and makes Jesus more desirable and the Christian faith more defined. Christianity is Jesus. That’s the simple message of the book. I hope you will consider giving a read.

After a long and involved process, I have come to a decision about the next chapter of life and ministry. This past weekend I accepted the invitation of Mission Road Bible Church in Kansas City, Kansas, to be their senior pastor.

Kim, our sons, and I are overwhelmed by God’s kindness and favor in this opportunity. MRBC is everything I ever desired in a church to shepherd, and so much more. The four days we spent with the church during my final candidating trip were confirming at every level that God has called me to this ministry. We will be transitioning to K.C. in July and have lots to do between now and then.

Throughout this process our church family at Grace Community Church, especially the Crossroads Ministry, has been so graciously supportive and helpful. Saying goodbye to them will be unspeakably difficult. The love and care I have received from them has marked our lives in every imaginable way. And the guidance provided by our elders has been indispensable. There will be much more I will say about leaving GCC in a later post.

Why Mission Road Bible Church? First, as I have come to know the elders there, their godliness, wisdom, unity, vision, and commitment is remarkable. Specifically their commitments to Scripture, the gospel, and the centrality of Christ in all aspects of life and ministry are compelling. Second, the people are so kind and winsome and it is clear that this is rooted in their commitment to the Truth and the Savior. Third, the opportunity for gospel impact in the area is strategic. The church’s location is in a densely populated section of Kansas City where there are few expository pulpits. Fourth, the previous senior pastor left the church in such good spiritual health that I wanted to have my family be a part of its ministry. And fifth, we enjoyed such an instant love from and for the church body that it was obvious God is doing something special.

As with most churches, the final decision for choosing the next pastor of MRBC rested in the hands of the congregation. On Sunday, April 3rd, they voted on me as their next senior pastor at a special congregational meeting. Our family sat at a nearby Starbucks during the meeting and waited for the call. The phone rang and I nervously answered. Mike Walje told me that the vote was 100% from the members to affirm me and that they were waiting at the church for us to come for a time of Q&A. When we walked into the church the Hollands received a reception that I will never forget.

Please pray for us as we make this transition over the coming months!