Sunday, December 31, 2006

“Teach Us To Number Our Days”

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 32. When I was a kid, I resented the timing of my birthday. December 30th is not the best day to be born if you’re hoping for a truckload of birthday presents. I often got presents that said, "Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday," which I figured was pretty much a criminal act. But that’s just the way it works--5 days after Christmas, people are tired of shopping and/or broke. And the day before New Years Eve, no one really wants another party. So I used to think that I had the worst birthday possible.

But I don’t think that anymore. I no longer resent my birth date. In fact, I actually like it. The reason is that I’ve found spiritual benefit in the timing of my birthday. Having my birthday and New Year’s so close helps me to feel more acutely the passing of time. And that’s very good for my soul, because I need to be reminded that I’m getting older. I need to be reminded that I have a limited amount of time on this earth.

For this reason, every year I have a little birthday tradition: I study Psalm 90—a Psalm that helps me meditate on the fleeting nature of life. And as I look ahead to a new year, I ask God to give me "a heart of wisdom."

Fittingly, today I preached on Psalm 90. The passing of a year is a chance for us to humbly reflect on the brevity of life and, in doing so, to see more clearly what matters most.

Verse 4 says, "For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past," and "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty…So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom." (10, 12)

I remember my dad teaching me as a young boy to pray for wisdom. He said, "Son, God promises to give wisdom to those who ask—so don’t forget to ask."

Coming to a start of a new year is a reminder that we need wisdom. We’re given a fresh slate—a brand new span of time and the question we all face is "What will we do with it? How do we make the most of it?"

We need wisdom. Wisdom is the ownership of insight. It’s seeing what is most important, and then living accordingly. Eugene Peterson defines wisdom as "the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves."

The Bible teaches us that true wisdom comes from seeing all of life in light of who God is. Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." In other words, the only way to have insight and perspective and skill in living is to make God your primary concern—to see him and his word and his commands and his reward and his judgment as the issues of utmost importance.

And that’s what Psalm 90 calls us to do. Again, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

This Psalm does more than just encourage us to count off how many years we have left in life. By showing us who God is and our relationship to him, it sharpens our vision of what is truly important in life.

I built my message today around this key truth: We can only live our days wisely when we see God clearly.

Over the next several days, I’m going to be posting on four qualities of a "heart of wisdom" that I covered in the sermon, which I’ll link when it becomes available online. For now, enjoy the last few hours of 2006, and may God give you grace to cultivate a heart of wisdom in the year to come.

UPDATE--Listen to the sermon here.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Year of Grace at Covenant Life Church

Each December, my family tries to sit down and recap the year that is almost gone. We list the big and little events that defined the year. It’s a chance to reflect on answered prayers and give thanks for God’s goodness. This month, I did the same for our church family’s year, which I shared in our December “Family News.” Here’s a short of list of highlights in no particular order:

1. The look on everyone’s face when we did a “reverse offering” at the end of our Affluenza series and gave out money to invest in God’s kingdom.

2. Changing our meeting times to 9 and 11:30am. Boy, did 8:30am feel early!

3. Encountering Jesus’ love and compassion for sinners in our series through the Gospel of Luke.

4. Karin Layman, Valori Maresco and my wife Shannon led their first series of Titus 2 meetings.

5. Emma attended Summer Celebration led by Mike Bradshaw and asked me the day after it ended how long it would be till the next one!

6. Grant Layman and his team launched the Family Room meetings and had so many parents and couples say, “Why didn’t we start this years ago?” Good question!

7. John Loftness and Robin Boisvert began Covenant Life College, where members can go deeper in theological study every Wednesday night.

8. Attending Together for the Gospel and seeing CJ’s friendship with—and leadership alongside—men like Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, and John MacArthur.

9. Having New Attitude back and better than ever under Eric Simmons’ leadership and the creativity of our amazing singles.

10. After many years of prayer, we sent out Chris Silard and many Covenant Life members to plant a church in Frederick, Maryland.

11. In February, the children’s ministry at Covenant Live grew with the addition of Mary Kate Harris. (Okay, I so snuck in a personal one. I couldn't help it!)

God has been very kind to us, and we say goodbye to 2006 with grateful hearts for all His mercy.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Runny Nose and the Incarnation

Today I'm working on my sermon for this Sunday. My words and sentences are so feeble in the face of the reality I'm trying to preach about. I'm preaching from Matthew 1, "And they shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us)."

If this weren't already too much for my small mind, I have a cold. And then the thought hits me, "Jesus had colds." Wow. God became man. He dealt with all our weaknesses, all the inconveniences of a body. He had a runny, sore nose from time to time. And he did this without Kleenex and without sin, which is pretty incredible, if you think about it.

I hope your soul is reveling in the glorious, mind-boggling truth of the incarnation. This quote from Charles Spurgeon can help increase your Christmas exultation:
Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's despised son.
Amen! Hallelujah! Jesus is our Immanuel!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Elijah, Baal...Merry Christmas!

I just learned that this past Sunday the lesson plan for the children's ministry had them studying 1 Kings 18:1-39, the story of the prophet Elijah (who I happened to dress up as for this year's Harvest Party...see picture). One member of our church named Drew Jones--one of the funniest, most creative and insane people I know--thought that it was very strange to have kids studying Elijah and the prophets of Baal the week before Christmas. So, he took it upon himself to write and perform a song for the kids that both taught the Old Testament story and was appropriate to the Christmas season. Well, I'll let you decide for yourself whether or not what he came up with was appropriate in any sense of the word...But I think it's pretty funny!



(To the tune of "Deck the Halls")

Gather everyone in Israel
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Bring some bulls and prophets of Baal
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Kill the bulls and make an alter
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
If Baal is god he will not Falter
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Dance like fools don’t be so haughty,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Where is Baal he’s on the Potty
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Thrash around kick up some mud
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Cut yourself and make some blood,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Baal’s an idol nothing real,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Fire came, God made a meal
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Even drenched in lots of water,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
God has spoken start the slaughter
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Justin Taylor on John Owen

New Attitude just did a short interview with Justin Taylor about the new edition of Overcoming Sin and Temptation, which he edited with edited Kelly Kapic. It's worth checking out.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nothing is Impossible with God

In studying for upcoming sermons on the birth of Christ, I came across a quote by John Calvin, cited by John Nunes in an article in Modern Reformation (Nov/Dec '06, p.36) based on Luke 1:37, in which Mary states, "For nothing will be impossible with God."
Let us remember that we are all in the same condition...Our circumstances are all in opposition to the promises of God. He promises us eternal life, yet we are surrounded by death; He declares that He considers us justified, yet we are still covered with sins. He testifies that He is forgiving and good towards us; yet outwardly all we see is His anger. What then are we to do? We must close our eyes, and disregard ourselves so that nothing may prevent us from believing that God is true.
Isn't this another way to describe gospel-centered living? We close our eyes to ourselves, our circumstances, our feelings and our performance, and instead look to and believe in the promises of God fulfilled in our Savior's life, death and resurrection. God, help me disregard myself and believe that you and your glorious gospel are true for me!

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Privilege of Sharing the Gospel

I wanted to share a letter that one of my fellow pastors, Kenneth Maresco, recently received from a former member of our church. It’s a powerful reminder of how important it is for all of us to use every opportunity to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Kenneth –
I wanted to write a note to thank you for your dedication to the Lord, your passion for spreading the Gospel & teaching us to do the same. Your teaching & preaching has positively affected more lives for the good than you can possibly imagine! One of those lives was Ellen Ann McWilliams, a former co-worker of mine from Fannie Mae.

Joyce & I invited Ellen to attend the Alpha course in the fall of 2002. Although Ellen was actively attending a local Catholic church at the time she accepted our invitation. Ellen was involved in counseling divorcees and wanted a better understanding of the Bible and understanding how to have a relationship with Jesus. By the end of the course, Ellen had accepted Jesus as her savior & re-dedicated her life to the Lord.

Ellen was a kind & lovely woman. We were blessed to have her as a guest in our home for Christmas Supper and again at Easter Supper in 2003. On more than one occasion she told us she had never felt such joy in her life. We loved her as a friend & a member of the body of Christ. Even after Ellen moved to the Philadelphia area for a new job, we kept in contact by phone & email until this past Spring 2006.

Sadly, though, I had a recent conversation with another former co-worker who informed me that Ellen died Memorial Day weekend in a skydiving accident. The circumstances were so unusual that the story was reported in the national & international newscasts.

We have since learned from the same co-worker, the coroner’s report states that due to evidence of a heart attack, Ellen probably died before striking the ground. If that is true, I can only imagine that as she called to God for help, He mercifully pulled Ellen from this life to come home with Him.

The circumstances of her death were a shock to us, but we are comforted in knowing we will one day have the opportunity to worship with her at the feet of the Lord.

-Russell
Please pray for Ellen’s family. And please consider who God has placed in your life at this time. Don’t pass up an opportunity to speak them about the hope you have because of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Boundless on Dating

The team over at Boundless has several articles right now addressing a biblical view of dating and sex that I think you'll find helpful. In particular, I'd encourage you to check out the ones by Scott Croft (here, here, and here) and Michael Lawrence (here), who are both friends who serve at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Scott uses the term "biblical dating" to describe a God-honoring relationship--which I'm totally cool with...except that it requires that you introduce your special someone to people as your "biblical boyfriend" or "biblical girlfriend."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Tokyo Seminar

We're back safe and sound in Gaithersburg, Maryland. We've been reunited with our dear baby, Mary Kate. It's good to be a whole family again. Our little girl sprouted two teeth while we were away and learned to pull herself up to standing. We had fun yesterday watching her new tricks.

I wanted to write briefly about the Saturday seminar I spoke at back in Tokyo. To all who prayed, thank you so much. I believe God answered those prayers. The time really went well. I ended up speaking three times and Hiro Inaba, the man who runs the homeschool organization CHEA Japan, and who hosted us, served as my translator.

Most of the attendees had come from within a 200 mile radius, but there were people who had come from all over the country. The church building, which was beautiful, seated around 850 people. Over 100 people registered at the door, and so the final attendance was somewhere over 700.

I know that numbers are not what's most important but, in a country where there are so few Christians, this kind of turn out was extremely encouraging to the believers there. The pastor of the church said that, in the history of their building, this was only the second time he'd seen so many people! And Hiro said that what was so unique about this gathering is that it was young adults. He told us afterward that it's very rare to see so many Christian young adults attend an event on their own accord.It's hard to measure the effect of the teaching. I felt God's power as I spoke about the power of the gospel being the only thing that can enable us to change. I felt a similar sense of God's Spirit moving when I challenged people to humble themselves and confess sexual temptation to other Christians. Though I got used to having a translator and felt comfortable, there were many times when I was preaching that the messages felt "flat." With an interpreter it's hard to build a sense of momentum. But whenever I thought that, I'd remind myself, "This is God's word! God's word is never flat!" I would then try to preach with the passion and urgency I felt.

And so many times I was overwhelmed at their willingness to listen so attentively to someone speak in another language. Our brothers and sisters in Japan are so hungry for truth. They don't have the endless resources and events that we're so accustomed to. So, to get the chance to serve them was incredible.

The messages were videotaped by a small Korean cable channel. If I understood correctly, they broadcast in both Japan and South Korea. I did a few "greeting spots" for them afterwards, and also did a 20 minute interview with a Christian newspaper in Tokyo that just started up.

Afterwards, people who came up to greet me were very kind in their encouragement. Many had read one or more of the books. Later, one of the staff members of CHEA said that the evaluations they were getting back were positive. Several people said they'd never heard messages that addressed the topic of romance and sex from a biblical perspective.

So, I'm praying that God will encourage and strengthen his people through what I shared. The thing I kept thinking throughout the trip was what an amazing privilege it is to speak about Jesus in any language!

Thanks for reading along and caring about this trip with our family. It's hard to express how much your interest and prayerful concern for us encouraged us. Sharing the trip with you on the blog made it even more meaningful for us. So thanks for reading. And please join me in continuing to pray for the nation of Japan, which so desperately needs the gospel.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Joshua Quinn's Blog Post and Photo Essay


Well, we're almost ready to come home. As we sit here, waiting to get on the train for the airport, we decided to let Joshua Quinn do his own post. The following are his exact words, dictated to Dad. As you'll see, even in a far away country, his primary preoccupation is his favorite movie, Cars! He couldn't quite grasp the concept of writing a letter to many people. So, most of what he dictated is directed to a couple of friends. Enjoy!
Hi, Evan! I need to tell you that I don't like Star Wars anymore, but I like the movie Cars more. I would be hoping that on my birthday that you could give me one of the figures of the movie Cars like the little fixer. I don't think you've seen the movie Cars. But I think you've seen Star Wars.

Hi, Miss Joy. I don't think you've watched the movie Cars either like I said to Evan. Did you know that I'm more excited to go home than to stay? But I miss some people. There are taxi cars in Japan that are different colors that I call names from the movie Cars.

There's a picture on the ceiling on the wall next to another picture and it has numbers on the bottom. Not to mention that if you don't know what this is, it's a blog post. If you don't like blog posts say, "Don't give me another blog post."

So, Miss Joy. I would like to see you again.

Thank you everyone who prayed for me.
Thanks for reading! The following are pictures that Joshua Quinn took all by himself as we walked around Tokyo. He picked these samples out by himself. Note the car theme also pervades his photography.










Shannon's Final Japan Post

Hi, everyone. This is Shannon, and this may be my last “Japan trip” post because we leave tomorrow around 11:30 a.m. for the airport.

Josh has been doing his seminar all day here in Tokyo. Sono went along with him, and I stayed behind with Grandma Sato and the children, since JQ is still recovering and Emma appeared a bit flushed today. They came home this evening just before I started writing this post, and left again for dinner. They reported that close to 750 people came to the conference which is excellent for Japan, and many more than they had originally expected. It is neat to see Josh making a difference here and being able to encourage these people in the Lord. Maybe he can report more on this…or tell about it next Sunday in church.


I have really enjoyed being here in Tokyo. The place where we are staying is in a very residential part of Tokyo, and it is so quaint. There is so much more to explore. Even tonight, while going to the grocery store (today has been all about food for the trip home), I discovered a new area that I didn’t know was so close. I have really enjoyed the walks I’ve gotten to take, and seeing the local people. About a mile’s walk away is a busier, more “big city” part of Tokyo, where we went three days in a row. This was where Josh took all the pictures of the food a few posts ago. I went back there today to purchase food for our trip. That was quite the adventure—taking a taxi by myself (I would have preferred to walk, but because the kids are under the weather, I didn’t want to be gone long), purchasing food (most everything is written in Japanese characters), and getting home (the taxi driver dropped me off in the wrong place – but I found my way on foot).

Here is a list of the food I purchased there (by pointing at what I wanted and holding up the number of fingers for quantity) for lunch and for the trip home:

For lunch today for the kids, myself and Grandma Sato:
1 large Sesame Bean Sprout Salad
2 Chicken on Skewers
2 Chicken with Spring Onion on Skewers
2 what I thought was Beef on Skewers but turned out to be Gizzard on Skewers which turned out to be Skewers in the trash can
A small bag of clementines
Some sweet bread and 2 sticky buns
1 package of tiny fried crabs for G’ma Sato (she loves these)
For the flight home for everyone:
1 package Brie Cheese
1 package Cheddar Cheese
1 Loaf of French Bread
10 cucumber maki rolls for Josh (like california rolls, only just cucumber)
12 chicken on skewers (yakatori)
3 small sesame bean sprout salads
3 containers of cashews
2 packages of raisins
1 package Hersheys kisses
1 package Ricola cough drops
There. Now you know what we’ll be eating for lunch. Isn’t that funny?

Speaking of funny, Sono, Josh’s mother, loves to laugh at my Japanese, because I keep saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. For instance, I learned, “nice to meet you” which is “Ha-je-me-mash-tay” but accidentally said it AFTER I had spent time talking with people. It turns out that it is only something you say when you first meet them. Then the other thing I said wrong was when I was buying Joshua Quinn’s clogs. I had learned that “Oi-shee” meant “very good” but I didn’t know that it was like saying “delicious! So after I bought the clogs I said to the salesman, “Oishee,” because I was happy to find them and thought it was “very good.” But what I really said was that Joshua Quinn’s clogs were delicious.

The last thing I have to say is that bikes are all over this city. They are just as common as cars and you really do have to watch out for them or you can get hit. Both male and female bikers ride really fast, and basically as if they were in a car. They don’t look at you and smile. They are on a serious mission to get somewhere and they are not timid. Joshua Quinn almost got hit today when we came around a corner and almost collided with a biker. Also, there aren’t really sidewalks and the roads are narrow, so everyone is sharing the road. But it also makes for a very interesting time. Most bikes have at least one basket on their bike and many have two. Mothers will put babies in the baskets, strap babies to their backs while riding, or some have child seats attached to their bikes. I’ve several mothers carrying two babies with her on her bicycle.


Well, although I really would like just a few more days to explore, I am also looking forward to being home and seeing all the faces of the dear people I love the most – our family, friends, our beloved church, and my dearest little one, Mary Kate. And Lord willing, I am looking forward to warming my home with a Christmas tree, and enjoying the little mundane things that make my home my own.

A few prayer requests for the way home would be:
-protection for Josh from a travel migraine (he had a very bad one coming)
-pray that JQ’s terrible cough would improve and not worsen
-pray that Emma would not get the flu that JQ had (we got word tonight that everyone in the Broman family has been vomiting & JQ all the children played together quite a bit last week)
-joyful hearts during the long journey
-smooth adjustment back to Eastern Standard Time
Thanks for keeping up with us via the blog. It has been fun to share this trip with you!

Shannon

Friday, December 01, 2006

Speaking in Tokyo Today

Shannon and I just got off the phone with our pediatrician Dr. Niu (thank God for this dear man and the way he serves us and so many others in our church!) Joshua Quinn's cough has gotten pretty bad and his fever has come back a bit, so we were calling to get advice. We're going to try and find some Robitussin PE and hope he'll improve before we get on the plane Sunday afternoon. Please pray for him to get rest today, and for the plane ride home.

I speak later today here in Tokyo. This is a very exciting opportunity. When we planned the trip to speak at the homeschool conference, this event was not scheduled. I mentioned in passing to Hiro that I'd be happy to speak at any other event he'd like and he took the suggestion as a challenge! So, his small homeschool organization decided to do something brand new for them and organize an event aimed at young adults and singles.

He told me last night that they had been hoping for around 200 people, but that in the past week they've had 600 register, which is a very encouraging number for Japan. He says that approximately 40% of those coming are 25-35 years old. With another 20% teenagers and the rest a mix of university students and families. He was excited because they're not people that their organization has ever been in contact with. He also told me that it seems, to some small extent, that my books here are being read by non-Christians. So possibly there will be unbelievers present. Praise God!

Please pray for me as I speak today. It starts at 1:30pm Tokyo time (that means 11:30pm EST), and I'll give three sessions. The first talk is called "Rethinking Romance," and is basically a message sharing some of the principles from Boy Meets Girl. The next two are drawn from Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is).

Please pray that God will help me speak clearly, and that nothing will be lost in interpretation. Hiro Inaba will be translating for me. Please pray that God will make his work effective.

I'm asking God to use these messages to greatly encourage the Christians here, and to open the eyes of some to the gospel. Please join me in praying that many of the singles will hear God’s word calling them to righteousness and purity in their relationships, and that they’ll see the goodness of obeying God in this part of their lives.

Thanks again for supporting us in prayer while we’re here. Shannon and the kids send their love.

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