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Aug 15

When God Withdraws the Sense of His Presence

2012 | by Trent Hunter | Category: Recommended Link,Recommended Resources

If you’ve been around DSC for a while now, you may have heard Ryan address the subject of depression. Of course, there are different kinds of depression, but one often neglected kind of sadness for Christians comes from what could be called, spiritual desertion.

Last week, John Starke posted audio to an interview with Ryan about this subject over at The Gospel Coalition Blog. Here’s the introduction with a link to the interview:

We regularly pray personally and corporately for God to increase the sense of his presence among his people. But what happens when it feels like God has withdrawn his presence? What introspective questions should we ask? What prayers should we pray?

Ryan Kelly, pastor of preaching at Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Council member for The Gospel Coalition, talks with Mark Mellinger about the doctrine of desertion. He describes how this doctrine helps us make sense of the psalms and our experience of spiritual dryness. Kelly reflects on a scary time in his life and directs us to Puritan writing on this topic, since so few modern writers address desertion directly.

Click here to download Ryan’s interview with Mark Mellinger.

If the subject of depression and spiritual desertion is of interest to you, you may find several links helpful. This past spring, Ryan preached two sermons on depression from Psalm 42 and 43, “How to Really Talk to Yourself,” and, “Unpacking Depression: Why Are You Downcast?.” In follow up to these sermons, we posted two blogs, including links to books, articles, and other resources helpful for understanding this subject: “Resources for Depression and Spiritual Desertion,” and, “Why Are You Downcast, O My Soul?” Unpacking Depression.”

Then, back in 2006, Ryan conducted a Saturday Seminar on depression that explored the Bible’s teaching on how we should understand and address depression as Christians.

Jul 20

Piper: Ten Preparations for Sunday Morning

After a short bout with shingles last weekend (many thanks to Trent for pinch-hitting!), I’m eager to get back to and wrap up our mini-series of praise in the Psalms. This coming Sunday, Lord willing, we’ll look at “The Aims” of praise, according to the Psalms.

Here are a few things you could do between now and Sunday AM to make the most of your time with others and the Lord.

You could read through and seek to apply these 10 suggested preparations for Sunday AM from John Piper:

1. Pray that God Would Give You a Good and Honest Heart

The heart we need is a work of God. That’s why we pray for it. “I will give you a new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26). “I will give them a heart to know Me” (Jeremiah 24:7). Let’s pray, “O Lord, give me a heart for you. Give me a good and honest heart. Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me an fruitful heart.”

2. Meditate on the Word of God

“O taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). On Saturday night, read some delicious portion of your Bible with a view to stirring up hunger for God. This is the appetizer for Sunday morning’s meal.

3. Purify Your Mind by Turning Away from Worldly Entertainment

“Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch. This makes us small and weak and worldly and inauthentic in worship. Instead, turn off the television on Saturday night and read something true and great and beautiful and pure and honorable and excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Your heart will unshrivel and be able to feel greatness again.

4. Trust in the Truth That You Already Have

The hearing of the Word of God that fails during trial has no root (Luke 8:13). What is the root we need? It is trust. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream.” Trusting in the truth is the best way to prepare yourself to receive more.

5. Rest Long Enough Saturday Night to be Alert and Hopeful Sunday Morning

“All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). I am not laying down any law here. I am saying: there are Saturday night ways that ruin Sunday morning worship. Don’t be enslaved by them. Without sufficient sleep, our minds are dull, our emotions are flat, our proneness to depression is higher, and our fuses are short. My counsel: decide when you must get up on Sunday in order to have time to eat, get dressed, pray and meditate on the Word, prepare the family, and travel to church; and then compute backward eight hours and be sure that you are in bed 15 minutes before that. Read your Bible in bed and fall asleep with the Word of God in your mind. I especially exhort parents to teach teenagers that Saturday is not the night to stay out late with friends. If there is a special late night, make if Friday. It is a terrible thing to teach children that worship is so optional that it doesn’t matter if you are exhausted when you come.

6. Forebear One Another Sunday Morning Without Grumbling and Criticism

“They grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD” (Psalm 106:25). Sunday morning grumbling and controversy and quarreling can ruin a worship service for a family. When there is something you are angry about or some conflict that you genuinely think needs to be talked about, forebear. Of course if you are clearly the problem and need to apologize, do it as quickly as you can (Matthew 5:23-24). But if you are fuming because of the children’s or spouse’s delinquency, forebear, that is, be slow to anger and quick to listen (James 1:19). In worship, open yourself to God’s exposing the log in your own eye. It may be that all of you will be humbled and chastened so that no serious conflict is necessary.

7. Be Meek and Teachable When You Come

“Receive with meekness the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Meekness and teachability are not gullibility. You have your Bible and you have your brain. Use them. But if we come with a chip on our shoulders and a suspicion of the preaching, week after week, we will not hear the Word of God. Meekness is a humble openness to God’s truth with a longing to be changed by it.

8. Be Still as You Enter the Room and Focus Your Mind’s Attention and Heart’s Affection on God

“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). As we enter the sanctuary, let us come on the lookout for God, and leave on the lookout for people. Come with a quiet passion to seek God and his power. We will not be an unfriendly church if we are aggressive in our pursuit of God during the prelude and aggressive in our pursuit of visitors during the postlude.

9. Think Earnestly About What Is Sung and Prayed and Preached

“Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). So Paul says to Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Anything worth hearing is worth thinking about. If you would take heed how you hear, think about what you hear.

10. Desire the Truth of God’s Word More Than You Desire Riches or Food

“Like newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). As you sit quietly and pray and meditate on the text and the songs, remind yourself of what Psalm 19:10-11 says about the Words of God: “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”

Of course, if you’ve missed any of the three previous messages on praise on the Psalms, you could also get caught up today or tomorrow. We’ve looked at “The Basics” of praise, “The Ingredients” of praise, and “The Form” of praise.

You could remind yourself a few of John Wesley’s “Directions for Singing:”

Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually….

Or you could simply read one of the most exultant Psalms, Psalm 145. This coming Sunday we’ll be all over the Psalms, but we’ll give special attention to this crescendo of the Psalter.

And, of course, pray! Pray that God would help us come eager, expectant, and exultant. Pray, “satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psa. 90:14). I’m praying that for you now.

Jul 11

Resources for Congregational Listening and Singing

2012 | by Trent Hunter | Category: Music and Singing,Recommended Resources,Sermon Follow-Up

In Sunday’s sermon, “A Both/And Kind of Praise: The Form,” Ryan addressed a number of principles that give shape to our Sunday gatherings.

The Role of the Sermon Listener

We learned that corporate praise should be both pastoral and participatory. So, while some are responsible for leading in song, all of us are part of the “church choir.” We should be engaged in singing, in relating with one another, and in prayer. But we should also be engaged in the preaching. That is, we should actively listen to and digest Sunday’s sermon as it comes at us. Much of our listening in a week is passive. Not this listening.

To help with this, there are two resources available at the Resource Center that teach us sermon listening skills:

Expository Listening: A Practical Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word
by Ken Ramey

Listen Up!: A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons
by Christopher Ash

Principles for Song Selection

Song selection is pastorally directed as well, a function of the shepherding role of our leaders. And our leaders aim to select songs that are singable and encourage our unified engagement in song. In addition, our praise, as Ryan explained, should connect us with the past and the present. For this reason, we work to utilize the best of older and newer songs for congregational singing. We want to sing songs that accurately, thoughtfully, and beautifully express the truth we love in a manner that fits that truth.

Several writers and writing groups are worth mentioning, each devoted to serving the church with texts and music for congregational singing.

Keith and Krystin Getty are modern hymn writers. You might recognize the songs, “In Christ Alone,” “By Faith,” or “O Church, Arise.” We have the Gettys to thank for those tunes and many others. Their two popular albums are, In Christ Alone, and Awaken the Dawn.  

Then, there’s Sovereign Grace Music, writing new songs and putting old songs to new tunes. You might be familiar with “Arise My Soul, Arise,” or “Now Why This Fear.” Both of these songs are from the newest Sovereign Grace album, From Age to Age.

Another group to check out is Sojourn Music, from Sojourn Church in Louisville, KY. Like Sovereign Grace Music, Sojourn writes a number of their own songs, and sets some of the better older songs to updated or new arrangements. A full list of songs with links for purchase is available here, including “Before the Throne of God Above,” “Warrior,” and “Absent from Flesh.” Examples of excellent songs that might not be familiar to you are, “Glory Be,” “Only Your Blood,” and “In The Shadow of The Glorious Cross.”

And, of course, at DSC we sing newer songs, many written by our own members, and older songs with updated arrangements. Click here for albums previously released by DSC, and check back to DSC’s bandcamp page for a slow trickle of free downloads of songs recorded at last year’s Cause for Praise concert, including, “He Hideth My Soul,” and “Kyrie (Lord, Have Mercy).”

The most important singing we do in a week is on Sunday morning when we’re together. But you can’t go wrong by investing in some of these songs for listening throughout the week.

Jun 5

Walking and Worshiping at Church Together

2012 | by Trent Hunter | Category: Recommended Resources

Children like to run, and they should run!

That children want to run in church is a sign of many wonderful things. It is a reminder that we are blessed with many children here at DSC, a sign that they are comfortable in the building and think of church as a fun place to be. And it is great that kids are forming friendships in the context of church even at a young age. All of this is wonderful.

But on Sundays, running children present a number of difficulties. Since there has been a growing crew of little runners in the Worship Center and hallways, Ryan addressed the issue at a recent Lord’s Supper service. Here are a few reasons why we felt this was important to address:

  • Counselors at the front of the Worship Center are speaking and praying with people following each service.
  • Our more fragile members could be injured should a child collide with their leg.
  • Visitors may be discouraged from returning if they witness what appears to be a disorderly worship environment.
  • It is good for children to be courteous of others in public places, and church is an important place to instill this expectation.

So, whether in the Worship Center, the hallways, or the courtyard, walking is the new running. In addition, for obvious safety reasons (and because instruments are delicate!) children aren’t allowed on the stage in the Worship Center.

Of course, training our children how to behave within the church walls grows out of a larger project in parenting to teach our children to love their neighbor, respect other people, and think big thoughts about what happens when the church gathers to worship Christ.

On this subject, John and Noel Piper have published a helpful article, “The Family: Together in God’s Presence.” Here are several of their many practical tips for parents when they decide to include their children in the Sunday service:

Preparation All Week Long

Your anticipation and conversation before and after service and during the week will be important in helping your child learn to love worship and to behave well in service.

Help your children become acquainted with your pastor. Let them shake hands with him. . . Talk about who the worship leaders are; call them by name.

. . .If you know what the Scripture passage will be for the coming Sunday, read it together several times during the week. A little one’s face really lights up when he hears familiar words from the pulpit.

. . .Sometimes you can take the regular elements of the service and make them part of the anticipation. “We’ve been reading about Joseph. What do you think the pastor will say about him?”

. . .There are two additional and important pre-service preparations for us: a pen and notepad for “Sunday notes” and a trip to the rest room (leaving the service is highly discouraged).

What Happens During Service?

First, I let a child who wants a worship folder have one—it helps a child feel like a participant in the service.

During service, we all sit or stand along with rest of the congregation. I share my Bible or hymnal or worship folder with my little one, because use of these is an important part of the service.

The beginning of the sermon is the signal for “notetaking” to begin. (I want a child’s activities to be related to the service. So we don’t bring library books to read. I do let a very young child look at pictures in his Bible, if he can do it quietly.) Notetaking doesn’t mean just scribbling, but “taking notes” on a special pad used just for service.

“Taking notes” grows up as the child does. At first he draws pictures of what he hears in the sermon. Individual words or names trigger individual pictures. You might pick out a word that will be used frequently in the sermon; have the child listen carefully and make a check mark in his “notes” each time he hears the word.

Later he may want to copy letters or words from the Scripture passage for the morning. When spelling comes easier, he will write words and then phrases he hears in the sermon. Before you might expect it, he will probably be outlining the sermon and noting whole concepts.

My training for worship has three main goals:

  1. That children learn early and as well as they can to worship God heartily.
  2. That parents be able to worship.
  3. That families cause no distraction to the people around them.

So there are certain expectations that I teach the young ones and expect of the older ones:

  • Sit or stand or close eyes when the service calls for it.
  • Sit up straight and still—not lounging or fidgeting or crawling around, but respectful toward God and the worshipers around you.
  • Keep bulletin papers and Bible and hymnal pages as quiet as possible.
  • Stay awake. Taking notes helps. (I did allow the smallest ones to sleep, but they usually didn’t need to!)
  • Look toward the worship leaders in the front. No people-gazing or clock-watching.
  • If you can read fast enough, sing along with the printed words. At least keep your eyes on the words and try to think them. If you can’t read yet, listen very hard.

Read the whole article here. Then, consider the following resources on the subject of children, families, and the church together:

May 30

How’s Work? — Resources on Vocation

2012 | by Trent Hunter | Category: Recommended Resources,Sermon Follow-Up

In the course of his Sunday sermon, “Life Is Short—Therefore…,” Ryan touched on the subject of vocation. In view of the shortness of life, in Psalm 90:17 the psalmist asks God to, “establish the work of our hands!” Concerning our every day work, Paul writes in Colossians 3:23, “work heartily, as for the Lord.”

With that in mind, below are some books and DSC sermons on the subject of vocation and the Christian life.

Books on Vocation:

God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life
by Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business
by Wayne Grudem

Work and Leisure in Christian Perspective
by Leland Ryken

Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work & Leisure
by Leland Ryken

Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work
by Tom Nelson

Sermons on Vocation:

The Wisdom of God in Work,” Proverbs
Ryan Kelly

Work unto the Lord,” Colossians 3:22-4:1

Click here for an interview with Tom Nelson on his book, Work Matters. Also, at his blog, What’s Best Next, Matt Perman has written a number of fine posts on the subject of vocation and the Christian life.

May 14

Help for the Pilgrimage of the Christian Life

2012 | by Trent Hunter | Category: Recommended Resources,Sermon Follow-Up

In Sunday’s sermon, “A Better Home,” Ryan preached from Psalm 84, a psalm with the familiar and lofty line, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (84:10). While we certainly believe this to be true, we recognize that we don’t always live like it. We believe it, but we know we should believe it more.

That’s why, as Ryan said, the Christian life is a pilgrimage. We are on our way to the perfect presence of God.

On this pilgrimage, the author of Hebrews encourages us with the example of Old Testament saints who looked forward to their heavenly home in Hebrews 11:13-16:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Following in the example of the faithful from the Old Testament means following them, ultimately, in the direction of their hope. This better and heavenly country, of course, is nothing less than the New Heavens and New Earth. And what’s so much better about it? There, we will hear the words, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Revelation 21:3).

Another help for the pilgrimage comes to us from the English Puritan, John Bunyan. His classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, unfolds the nature of the Christian life by means of a powerful and imaginative story, making sense of the various struggles and temptations faced by every Christian. You can purchase a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress at Amazon here.

For children nine years old and up, Oliver Hunkin’s adaptation, Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress, is an excellent resource.

Below is a two hour version of Hunkin’s adaptation being read with illustrations.

[RSS and email readers, click here to view this video]

HT: Justin Taylor

May 9

Resources for Helping Children Hope in God

2012 | by Trent Hunter | Category: Recommended Resources,Sermon Follow-Up

On Sunday, Ryan preached from Psalm 78, one of six history psalms. The other history psalms are Psalms 105-107, 114, and 136. Psalm 78 is unique, however, for its focused statement of purpose to rehearse the history of Israel in order that the next generation should “set their hope in God.” That’s actually a very nice way of stating the aim of all Christian parenting.

Here are some resources for helping you help your children set their hope in God:

Resources on Parenting

Resources About Family Worship

Tools for Family Worship

Resources About The Church’s Ministry to Families