December 3, 2014 by
Categories: Christmas | Resources
Editor’s note: We are beginning a 4-part Advent series from Marty Machowski’s family devotional, Prepare Him Room.
“Stop! Thief!” The shopkeeper shouted after the ragged boy who had slipped an apple into his pocket then turned and walked out the door without paying. At the sound of the man’s voice, the boy took off through the ankle-deep snow, thin legs pumping.
Altered by the shopkeeper’s call, Sergeant O’Malley, a half a block away, caught a glimpse of a small dark figure moving against the white landscape. He won’t slip away from me this time, the office thought. He blew his whistle and took off after the boy. The lad was quick—much quicker than the officer—but the fresh tracks laid down in the new-fallen snow led directly to 1052 Marker Street. The footprints scaled a set of stairs and stopped at the dark, hand-carved chestnut door. A sign chiseled in the granite cornerstone read: Bartimaeus House, 1862.
The officer’s face registered grim satisfaction as he followed the tracks up the stairs. He had been trying to catch the young thief for months. As he looked up at the familiar name on the door, the officer mused, “This might be the perfect place for him; I hope I can get him to stay.” The boy had all the earmarks of a recent orphan: he never stole anything of value, only what he needed to eat—a loaf of bread, a ring of baloney, an apple or two. The boy had always managed to stay a step or two ahead of Sergeant O’Malley. “But not today,” he said as he turned the handle and opened the door.
Bartimaeus House got its start in 1852 when two-year-old Bartimaeus had been left on the doorstep of Jonathan Hawthorn’s house. The little boy was one of hundreds of children similarly orphaned in New York, and the first of ten orphans Doc Hawthorn took into his home until they could be placed with adoptive families. When a heart attack claimed the doctor’s life only a few years later, his wife used his estate to fund the construction of Bartimaeus House. More than fifty years had passed, but Bartimaeus House continued to care for orphans.
Frantically planning his escape, Christopher thought the old stone building looked like a school, and he reasoned he could hide unnoticed inside. It seemed like the perfect place to get lost in the crowd. Had he realized it was an orphanage, or that he was leaving such a clear trail in the fresh snow behind him, he would have kept running. To his surprise and relief, when he reached for the doorknob and turned it, the massive door swung open. He slipped inside and drew in a deep breath of the place. The warm room smelled like an old school. Christopher had been on his own since his parents died—his mother, last spring; his father, a year before that in the war. He shut his eyes and took in the sounds of a choir warming up in the distance. Their voices drew Christopher in and down a long, dim hallway.
As he drew closer to the open door near the end of the hall, he heard muffled voices and peeked around the corner of the open door. The singing started again: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King . . .” Everyone was singing at his own tempo. They sure need practice, he thought as he stood undetected in the shadow of the doorway. About thirty children were in the chorus. An older girl was attempting to conduct, but no one was paying attention to her. Suddenly, the front door opened and closed with a thud. Christopher skipped into the room, plodding carefully in his oversized boots, and slid silently behind the faded drapes that framed the large windows now frosted with snow.
“But, Mary,” a boy whined, “why do we have to sing Christmas songs when we can’t even celebrate Christmas?”
The singing faltered then stopped altogether. “If Miss Roberts hears us stopping we’ll have to practice even longer,” Mary warned. “Besides, it’s the only thing we do for Christmas. It’s tradition.”
“So are candy canes and presents,” the young boy shot back. “Why can’t we really celebrate Christmas?”
A girl spoke up. “Miss Roberts says there is no use celebrating Christmas if you’re not going to celebrate with a family.”
“Miss Roberts says this, Miss Roberts says that,” the boy whined in a sarcastic tone. “I don’t care what Miss Roberts says or doesn’t say.”
A young girl on the front row said, “I’ll bet there will be lots of folks going to the concert that could adopt us.”
Mary shook her head. “Careful, Gwendolyn. Don’t get your hopes up. Miss Roberts wouldn’t approve. Remember, she was an orphan here when she was a child, and nobody ever adopted her. Besides, no one is adopting these days, not with the war going on.” Mary walked over to the little girl, stroked her hair, and whispered, “I used to have your faith, but I gave up the hope of adoption long ago. It’s time to move on, I suppose.”
“Why aren’t you practicing?” a voice challenged sharply, startling all but the few children who had seen her enter the room. Everyone snapped to attention and no one uttered a word as they looked at the woman who had just entered the room.
Christopher peeked out.
Mary said, “Miss Roberts, we—”
“Hush, Mary,” Miss Roberts said. She stepped aside to let the policeman into the music room. “This is Sergeant O’Malley,” she said. “Now where is he?”
The children looked at one another and shrugged.
“We know he’s in here,” O’Malley said.
“Where is who?” Mary asked, on behalf of the whole group.
“The thief!” O’Malley blurted out. “That’s who.”
“Thief?” Mary gasped.
“Officer O’Malley followed a young boy—a thief!—in through our front door,” Miss Roberts explained. “Wet melting snow tracks led down the hallway from the front door right to this . . . puddle of water.” She looked down at a circle of water just on the threshold.
“So, out with it,” O’Malley commanded. “Where is he?”
Christopher held his breath and did his best to stand absolutely still. One ripple of the drapes and he was a goner!
Every eye fixed on the water still pooled at the doorway but no one had an answer. They simply looked at each other.
“Well, then,” Sergeant O’Malley said, “we’ll just use some good old fashioned detective work . . . Let’s follow these three small drops of water that lead from this telltale puddle in the doorway over here . . . to the left side of the room.”
Just before the officer reached him, Christopher shot out from behind the drapes and bolted toward the door. Dodging the officer, he slammed straight into Miss Roberts, who held him securely by his collar.
“Let me go!” he shouted, struggling to break free. But it was no use. A second later, the officer had grabbed him.
“What’s your name?” the sergeant asked him.
“Christopher,” he spat.
“Christopher who?” the sergeant continued.
Christopher blinked several times but said nothing.
O’Malley rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “The choice is simple, Christopher. You can either stay here at Bartimaeus or head straight to the judge. The choice is yours, but if you go to the judge you’ll be facing a long list of charges,” he warned. “You’ve been stealing from the market for months now. The judge will most likely turn you over to the Children’s Aid Society, and they’ll ship you out on one of their orphan trains.”
The officer was right. Rumors ran wild on the street about the orphan trains that hauled children off to faraway placed to be peddled for their farm labor. If he didn’t agree to stay, Christopher would be on his way out west to some farm in the middle of nowhere to work long days and spend his nights in a cold basement crawling with critters while the farmer’s own children were safe and sound in their warm beds. At least Bartimaeus was warm. “I’ll stay,” he said. Stay for a few months, that is, until the weather turns warmer. Then I can skip out and be back on the run.
O’Malley, who seemed to be reading his mind, said, “Don’t you even think of leaving, you hear?” He wagged his finger an inch from Christopher’s nose to punctuate his stern words. “One bad report, just one . . . or if I ever so much as catch you outside again, it’s the slammer for you, young man. You shook us for months in the warm weather, but you’ll die out there in the cold.” Sleet was now clicking against the panes.
“I said I’ll stay,” Christopher repeated. Truth was, he had never been alone at Christmastime, and he surely didn’t like the cold, much less the snow.
The sergeant tipped his hat and said, “Well, I guess that will do it for now. Thank you, Miss Roberts.” He bid her a good day, hitched up his pants by the belt heavy with the instruments of his law-keeping trade, then turned sharply, clicked his heels with military precision, and strode out of the room.
After a half-second pause to catch her breath, Miss Roberts addressed the children. “Jake, you will show Christopher to the washbasin and help him get properly clean for dinner. Find him some trousers and a shirt from the boy’s box in the spare room. The rest of you, wash your hands at once and report to the dining room. I am heading over to the YMCA to talk to the new director about our performance. Oh, and Christopher, welcome to Bartimaeus. You’ll have the same privileges as the other children: warm meals, warm clothes, and a warm home. But let this be fair warning to you: You mess up, you lose them all. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Christopher said, nodding.
“Very well, then.” She looked at the rest of the children. “Don’t forget your studies after dinner. Bedtime is 9:30.” She pointed to the clock. Then she turned and exited the room, her hard-soled shoes thumping down the hallway. The children stood motionless and listened for the loud clap of the door closing behind her.
Adapted from Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Family Devotional © 2014 by Covenant Fellowship Church. Used by permission of New Growth Press. Excerpt may not be reproduced without the express written permission of New Growth Press. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit www.newgrowthpress.com.
Photo by Sarah DeWire.
Marty Machowski is a Family Life Pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, PA. He and his wife Lois have six children.
November 14, 2014 by
Categories: Audio messages | Resources
A few years ago at a Pastors Conference, Jeff Purswell spoke on “The Pastor and the Spirit,” sharing priorities from Scripture to embrace as we consider the Spirit’s work in our lives.
We’ve selected some highlights from the message that we hope will encourage you, and we’ve linked to the audio and a full outline of Jeff’s message below. May these words encourage you to rejoice in the Spirit’s work as He bears witness to the glory of Christ!
Familiarity with these chapters [1 Corinthians 12–14] will promote not only understanding, but also a greater desire for the Spirit’s work, the practice of the gifts, and the experience of God’s active presence in our lives and in our churches.
Everyone who makes a saving confession of Jesus Christ is by definition spiritual, because that can only be done by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s the transforming effect of the gospel that is pre-eminent in terms of spiritual experience.
Apart from love, spiritual gifts and even heroic displays of self-sacrifice are of no value and say nothing about one’s true spiritual condition.
From a biblical perspective, we don’t have the option of merely acknowledging spiritual gifts; we are called to eagerly desire them. The Bible commands not just practice, but an attitude.
Although the Spirit’s work is in no way limited to more prominent, spectacular gifts, neither does it exclude them.
Edification is Paul’s unmistakable priority for the gathered church.
Paul provides a vision here not of mere order, but one of harmony, peace, joy, and unity fostered by an awareness of who God is and a sense of His active presence with us.
These chapters free us to pursue the Spirit’s work with faith, confident of His desire to empower and equip us, informed by the purposes of the Spirit’s work, positioned to allow the Spirit’s work to clarify and strengthen our passion for the gospel.
Image by Finch Photo.
Carrie is a communications assistant at Sovereign Grace.
November 4, 2014 by
Categories: Audio messages | Resources
God met us in power through the preaching of Rick Gamache at our Pastors Conference last month.
I heard numerous attendees say it was a major highlight during the conference, so we thought it wise to feature some quotes from Rick’s message along with the audio in its entirety (see below).
Worship the Lord as you consider your work and His in your sanctification!
We are to become what we are already declared to be in Jesus.
Our active obedience is essential to our finally being saved.
We preach the gospel to save the lost and to save the saved.
Obedience is possible and obedience is absolutely necessary. God is pleased with imperfect obedience.
Gospel grace is fuel for gospel growth.
We work out our salvation with fear and trembling—or reverential awe—because God Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, our Redeemer, our Justifier, our Father, is working in us.
Our effort is necessary, but it is only God’s power that makes our effort possible.
Spurgeon, in response to, “How do you reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility?” said, “I do not try to reconcile friends.”
Download the audio (right-click and select “Save link as” or “Save target as”)
Image by Finch Photo.
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
October 29, 2014 by
I recently read Real Peace: What We Long for and Where to Find It by our very own Andy Farmer. The introduction alone got me hooked.
See for yourself. In fact, I dare you to read his compelling introduction (included in its entirety below) and see if it doesn’t spur you on to read the rest of the book. Andy does a fantastic job at applying God’s Word to numerous barriers to peace including stress, grief, depression, and interpersonal conflict. He has a wise, winsome, pastoral voice, and he cares deeply for God’s people.
So, we highly commend this book to you! Here is the introduction.
The initial idea for this book came to me as I stared at a picture. It wasn’t a beautiful Caribbean beach scene, or a pristine Alpine meadow. It was a picture in my office of a horse. Running. Down the homestretch of a big race. With thousands of people screaming as he churned up the track. Not exactly the idyllic scene you think would inspire a book on peace. Let me try to explain.
The horse is Secretariat, the legendary thoroughbred who won horse racing’s Triple Crown in 1973. Secretariat happens to be my favorite athlete of all time, species notwithstanding. As a fourteen-year-old I somehow got caught up in the national hoopla over his Triple Crown run. I watched each race with rapt attention, spellbound by the effortless grace and power that seemed to flow out of him as he set records in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.
The picture I’m referring to is a famous photo of “Big Red” closing out his Triple Crown with his historic Belmont Run. My wife got it for me and had it signed by the jockey, Ron Turcotte, and the photographer who took the shot. Secretariat is running along the rail in full stride toward the finish line. But there’s an odd thing about the picture. The horse and his rider are virtually alone in the shot. Secretariat won the Belmont by a mind-boggling thirty-one lengths (over eighty yards)—setting a world record for the distance that still stands. Turcotte said afterward, “I was just along for the ride”. Think about it like this. With no competition and no urging from his jockey, my favorite athlete ran faster than any horse has ever run a mile and a half in history. In fact, his quarter times show that he was actually speeding up as he crossed the finish line!
I was looking at the picture one day and I noticed something I’d never seen before. At full speed in front of thousands of people the horse seems absolutely calm. I looked for any sign of stress and couldn’t see anything. It dawned on me—he’s running just for the fun of it. I was watching an animal do what he was created to do, do it with amazing beauty, and do it with what seemed like pure joy. I thought to myself, “That’s peace. I need me some of that.”
So I began to study the idea of peace in the Bible. In that process I discovered a second reason to write this book. I had a hard time finding anything written on peace in all its biblical aspects. I could find excellent books on our reconciliation with God through the cross, but they said very little about the experience of peace in the day-to-day experiences of life. I found some books on the experience of peace, but there wasn’t much connection to the gospel in them. As I looked for helpful resources on how to do peace in the world, I found myself in the world of liberal theology, again with little if any gospel connections. I thought if I could write something that was biblical and gospel-centered, it might start conversations that don’t seem to be happening much right now.
The thing that pushed me to actually do this, however, was my experience in pastoral counseling and care. As I studied peace, I became much more attuned to how people I was meeting with related to it. I began to realize that nearly everyone I talked to, regardless of their situation, was thirsting for peace in their lives. This is abundantly obvious with the people I talk to who don’t claim a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Even among Christians who are not in difficult struggles, the lack of peace is real. Whether we used the word or not, embedded in the language people use to describe their life struggles is a desperate cry for peace. I had a friend ask me today what I was writing on, and when I told her it was peace, she simply sighed, “Ahh . . . I’d love that.”
That’s my hope in writing this book. That you’ll learn to love peace like I’m learning to love peace. Peace in all its dimensions. Let me offer some tips on how to read this book. My best suggestion is to start at the beginning; that’s how I wrote it. But you could also look through the table of contents for a chapter that might speak to your immediate sense of need. You’ll find application for peace in the normal stress of life (Chapter 4) and also for some difficult struggles like anxiety, grief, depression, and conflict (Chapters 5–8). My hope is that if you get something out of one of those chapters it might get you wanting to read from the beginning.
Nearly every New Testament letter begins with a greeting that includes a blessing of peace.’ As you begin this book let me extend that blessing as well. May you read and be enriched with peace. Like my favorite athlete, may we learn how to run our races at peace, finding unexpected joy in doing what we were created and redeemed to do. Or as the New Testament authors tend to say it, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (2 Pet. 1:2) through what you read in the pages to come.
 Of the 22 epistles in the New Testament, only Hebrews, James, 1 John, and 3 John do not begin with this greeting.
Buy the book.
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
October 23, 2014 by
Categories: Music | Resources | Worship
Even though Bob Kauflin wrote Worship Matters primarily for worship leaders, the rest of us can certainly benefit from this book too.
Current and future pastors can appreciate his care for a solid biblical theology of worship. Church members can appreciate what their leaders think and pray through in order to serve the church week in and week out. Even unbelievers can appreciate his winsomeness and tone.
Indeed, this book is remarkable for its passion for both deep doctrine and deep delight. Love for God’s glory and love for men’s souls. Rare is the book that is so richly theological and yet practically relevant.
The force of the book as a whole is powerful. But there are some individual gems worth mining and analyzing and prayerfully considering. So, I compiled 15 of those gems to kindle your passion for worship. And I pray that, if you haven’t read it, you would consider doing so.
1. “Worship matters. It matters to God because he is the one ultimately worthy of all worship. It matters to us because worshiping God is the reason for which we were created. And it matters to every worship leader, because we have no greater privilege than leading others to encounter the greatness of God. That’s why it’s so important to think carefully about what we do and why we do it.” (19)
2. “For years we’ve read about or experienced firsthand the “worship wars”—conflicts over music styles, song selections, and drums. But far too little has been said about the worship wars going on inside us. And they’re much more significant.” (21)
3. “The only approval that matters—God’s—is impossible to earn but is offered as a gift through the gospel.” (25)
4. “Truth has often been tested and confirmed in the fires of controversy and conflict.” (31)
5. “If our doctrine is accurate but our hearts are cold toward God himself, our corporate worship will be true but lifeless. Or if we express fervent love for God but present vague, inaccurate, or incomplete ideas of him to those we’re leading, our worship will be emotional but misleading—and possibly idolatrous. Neither option brings God glory.” (32)
6. “While God values skill, he doesn’t accept our worship on the basis of it. . . . The important thing to recognize is that leading the church to worship God requires more than a sincere heart and good intentions. It requires skill. And that involves work, time, and preparation.” (35, 41)
7. Bob’s definition of a worship leader:
A faithful worship leader
magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ
through the power of the Holy Spirit
by skillfully combining God’s Word with music,
thereby motivating the gathered church
to proclaim the gospel,
to cherish God’s presence,
and to live for God’s glory. (55)
8. “A worship leader echoes David’s invitation in Psalm 34:3: “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!” The first priority of our time together is to magnify the Lord. I want to help people remember that God is bigger than their problems and joys, greater than their sorrows and successes, more significant than their tests and triumphs.” (62)
9. “To magnify God’s greatness in Jesus Christ means more than worshiping Jesus as God, extolling his example, and thanking him for his love. It involves drawing attention to and trusting in his specific work as our mediator and Savior.” (70)
10. “Spontaneous spiritual gifts serve to confirm God’s active presence in our midst, to strengthen, encourage, and build up his people.” (86)
11. “If we see even a glimpse of the glory and splendor of God, it will produce a genuine humility in our hearts. . . . No thought attacks the root of our pride like realizing that God himself had to pay for our rebellion against him.” (144)
12. “It’s a pastor’s responsibility to gently and privately talk to anyone whose physical expressions are distracting or inappropriate. I’d begin by encouraging them about their apparent love for God, then ask if they’ve ever thought about the effect of their actions on others. Usually a conversation will help someone realize that God isn’t honored by everything we “feel” will honor him, if we’re failing to consider the effect on others.” (173)
13. “If our feet are firmly planted in the sufficiency of God’s Word, we are then more prepared to benefit from listening for the voice of the Spirit.” (185)
14. “We have no better way to serve non-Christians [in the context of our church services] than to help them hear, understand, and experience the grand story of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ.” (204)
15. “This is the reason we’ve been created: to magnify the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (210)
And so I commend this book for your own careful reading and consideration. You can buy both a hard copy of the book and the Kindle version.
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
October 15, 2014 by
Jeff Purswell, our Director of Theology and Training, recently preached a message from Hebrews 12:1–2, and the Sovereign Grace staff thought it might encourage and strengthen you.
This message, called “A Steady Pace and a Fixed Gaze,” is available for audio listening or download as well as video. We’ve also included the video at the bottom of this post.
Below, we have included some highlights from his sermon with the prayer that God would speak to you through the preaching of his Word:
The very essence of our existence as believers—as followers of Christ—is that our life is a race. The Christian life doesn’t call for fast starts or flashes of brilliance or trigger-fast reflexes. The heroes of the faith aren’t muscular sprinters. They don’t “strike a pose” to celebrate their victories. Rather, following Christ calls for a steady pace, a wise and thoughtful strategy executed, not in seconds, but over time. No character quality is more important to our lives than endurance.
But there is a finish line. There will be fruitfulness—fruitfulness you’ve never dreamed of! The effects from your labors and prayers and serving and giving will baffle you. Your rewards from God will humble you. The text says, “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have shown for his name in serving the saints!” (Hebrews 6:10). God knows your every step, every blister, every pain, and every disappointment. He waits at the finish line with glories in his presence that we’ve never even imagined. God himself laid out your course. He fashioned you for it. He designed it. And he did so to shape you, to use you, and to make you more like Jesus.
Therefore, we are to take off and lay aside every weight or burden or impediment (Hebrews 12:2). We must cast off anything and everything that would impede or burden or distract or hinder our race—our pursuit of Christ, his glory, and his purposes. We are to evaluate all our activities and our resources in light of their effects on running the race. This takes supernatural wisdom. It calls for counsel from others who are running the race with you. But that’s the call of this text: If anything hinders your race—if it robs you of faith or passion for Christ or love for others or a burden for the lost or the use of your gifts in the local church—then it might be a weight.
Some hindrances impede us; but sin entangles us. Other hindrances weigh you down; sin will bring you down. You can’t run the race and cherish sin. You can’t run the race and cultivate sin. You can’t run the race and indulge in sin. You can’t run the race and be apathetic toward sin. That’s why we need the local church. Look around and you will see that there are runners everywhere, ready to help. Earlier the author of Hebrews wrote, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25). Do not take the body of Christ for granted.
Christian, you’re not just floating through life—you’re in a race. You must trust in the promises and faithfulness of God. Entrust yourself to God by desiring not what the world has to offer, but what God offers you through His promises. And remember that you are not alone. You are part of a noble company. There are many powerful examples of those who trusted in God’s promises and faithfully endured (see Hebrews 11). You are upheld by the same God as they were.
Therefore we look preeminently to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Just as an athlete concentrates all his energies upon his prize, marshaling all his resources to capture that trophy or cup or medal, so are we to fix our gaze entirely on our Savior. We look to Jesus first because he’s the founder or pioneer of our faith. Christ blazed a trail before us, showing us the way. He endured shame and hostility from a world opposed to God. And he did so because our salvation—and the vindication of his Father’s honor—was his joy. As the founder of our faith, Jesus opened the way for us to enter the presence of God. He fully accomplished what was required for us to be forgiven—to draw near to God.
Because Christ finished his race, we can finish ours. The Christian’s fundamental call is steadfast endurance, with our gaze fixed on Jesus. While we run this race, Hebrews 12:1–2 wants Jesus to dominate our vision. He ran the ultimate race. He guaranteed our forgiveness and access to God. He is our source of power to persevere in the race.
Race photo from Shutterstock.
Bryan (@BryanDeWire) is the Communications Manager at Sovereign Grace.
October 14, 2014 by
Categories: Interviews | Music | Resources
We recently announced that there is a new Christmas album from Sovereign Grace Music called Prepare Him Room. In that post, we said that there are some other exciting resources accompanying the album (by the same name): a family devotional and a classroom curriculum.
Marty Machowski wrote the devotional and curriculum while Bob Kauflin partnered with him by overseeing the creation of the album. So, I took the opportunity to ask these men some questions to give you a more behind-the-scenes look:
How long does a project like this take?
Marty: For some writing projects, I get an idea, plan out a schedule, and start plugging away. Most of my writing projects have taken six months of intensive study and writing. Prepare Him Room didn’t follow that pattern, and each of its three components came together a bit differently, over a longer period of time.
The short Christmas story “Bartimaeus” that I’ve included in the devotional was first written for my children. Later, I passed it along to our homeschool ministry who turned the storyline into an original Christmas musical. After the musical performance, I decided to rewrite the story to see if I could polish it up enough to have it published. I probably rewrote that story three times over two years.
The devotional began as a project for our church family at Covenant Fellowship. Jared Mellinger asked me to write an Advent devotional for folks in our church to use. Most of that came together in one blessed day when I got the idea to connect the Christmas prophecies in the Old Testament with the New Testament fulfillments. It was that devotional which became the framework for the Advent devotions in the Prepare Him Room devotional.
I wrote the companion curriculum last of all to bring the same truths of Scripture into the Sunday school classroom. That took about a month to write working about an hour and a half each day, or about 50 hours.
Bob: From Marty’s first email, the project took about 15 months. We actually started writing songs in January of this year and finished in early April. The recording took about six weeks.
How did you end up partnering with each other on this project?
Marty: I’ve known Bob for 27 years—ever since he first spoke at a Covenant Fellowship singles retreat in the 90’s. Bob is such a gift to us and I love his heart for God and his gifting in writing music. So when the idea came up in conversation with New Growth Press to put together a Christmas album highlighting the themes from Prepare Him Room in song, it was a no-brainer to contact Bob.
With all Bob has going on, I thought it was a long shot—and a dream. Having Bob on the project would be getting the best. What a joy to have this work out. In the end, Bob was excited by the prospect of doing another Christmas album, and we were able to work together to create a grouping of songs that work amazingly well with what I’ve written.
When Bob sent me the first rough-cut video of “Who Would Have Dreamed,” it took my breath away. The lyrics were amazing, and his daughter, McKenzie, killed it!
Bob: Marty sent me an email in June of 2013 asking if I’d be interested in having Sovereign Grace Music produce an album to accompany his children’s Advent curriculum and devotional. I had been thinking about recording another Christmas album the past few years, since Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man came out back in 2006. This provided the perfect opportunity to pursue that impulse.
Why are you releasing the CD album, the devotional book, and the curriculum together?
Marty: Jesus was born to the chorus of angels singing to the shepherds in the fields. Christmas isn’t Christmas without songs celebrating the coming of our Savior. When I developed the Prepare Him Room curriculum and devotional, I wanted to include singing as a part of what the children would do.
This Christmas album stands alone, as does the curriculum, but when you put them together, you have a wonderful Advent program in study and song that we hope will be a blessing for families and churches partnering together to bring the gospel to the next generation.
Bob: Partly because of the way the project came about. The album really is a companion to the devotional and curriculum. I think we would have come up with a different album without Marty’s materials. The specific Scriptures caused us to focus on the particular themes of each lesson and gave us more diversity than we would have had otherwise.
What audience are these resources meant for?
Marty: The target audience for the family devotional and curriculum is preschool through elementary age children. I wanted to provide a gospel-rich set of activities families could use to build Christ-centered family traditions that will last. While Prepare Him Room is written for 4–10 year-olds, the rich biblical theology I’ve included is material for people of any age. I remember first discovering the truths of biblical theology well into my adult years and marveling at some of the very same prophecies we teach in Prepare Him Room.
Bob: While the curriculum and devotional are intended for 4–10 year-olds and their families, the album is for all ages. We aimed for a specifically “Christmas” sound that is timeless, rather than trying to produce a pop album with Christmas lyrics. We were really pleased with the result. One person described it this way: “The album as a whole has a depth and movement about it that is both sobering and hopeful.”
How can I order these resources, and what are the most strategic ways I can use them?
Marty: Go to New Growth Press for both the curriculum and the devotional.
I am hoping churches 1) purchase the curriculum to use the four weeks prior to Christmas and 2) encourage their families to use the companion family devotional. The goal of these two resources is to bridge the gap between church and home and to serve as a tool for pastors and families to use together.
It brings me great joy when I think that families can also be singing Christmas hymns and songs at home along with the album Bob put together and then singing those same songs on Sunday. I’ve made it my mission to provide resources that help parents bring the life-transforming message of the gospel to their family.
I honestly can’t think of a more comprehensive Christmas program that teaches children the true meaning of Christmas through word, deed, and song. I hope churches and families in Sovereign Grace (and beyond) take advantage of this program and see the gospel proclaimed to a new generation who we trust will carry the torch of the gospel when our days are complete.
Bob: Marty explained how to get the curriculum and devotional. The best place to get the album is the Sovereign Grace Music website. From there, you can purchase it from a number of retailers or websites.
Every Christmas, we’re bombarded with voices from our culture trying to tell us what is most important about the Christmas season, whether it be gifts, parties, family, or traditions. This album, combined with the devotional and curriculum, will be a huge help to parents who want to take consistent time to focus not only on the birth of Christ, but also its purpose. Jesus was born to save us from our sins. That is the greatest miracle to celebrate at Christmas or any other time for that matter. And after sitting down to go through the devotional together, families can reinforce and deepen those truths anywhere and anytime as they listen to the songs on the album.
Marty serves as a pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church and has written numerous resources for children and families.
Bob is the Director of Music and Worship for Sovereign Grace and serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.
Every single time the living, active Word of God addresses us, it is powerful. His truth shapes us and changes us.
However, I can look back and pinpoint particular instances where I had a unique encounter—where, as I sat there listening to the preached Word, it seemed as if God was singling me out of the crowd, speaking personally, directly, and specifically to me. These are holy moments. Humbling moments.
This was my experience at the 2013 Pastors Conference, as Jeff Purswell addressed us from Isaiah 40. Even from the opening prayer, I knew God was addressing me. I was keenly aware that he saw me—my struggles, my concerns, my weariness.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Jeff opened his message describing weariness. Not just physical weariness, but soul weariness. “Weariness is not resolved by sleep or vacations or leisure.…Weariness is a persistent fatigue of the soul that has lost sight of a better future.” I found myself soul weary as I sat in the auditorium at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando last October. And as Jeff unpacked the definition of a despondent heart (v. 27), I saw myself in that definition. My way is hidden from the Lord. Does he see me? Is he aware?
Jeff went on to explain that the “weary heart rarely stays stagnant, the spiral goes downwards. ‘My right is disregarded by my God (v. 27).’” Does he hear my prayers? He’s not answering. Does he care?
I found my heart resonating with these descriptions of a weary and despondent heart, and again, it was as if Jeff was describing me. “Here is where weariness can take us: It can lead the heart to despondency, even to despair. It can lead to those two fundamental questions the exiles asked: ‘Does God know?’ ‘Does God care?’”
Only a renewed view of our majestic God can address our hearts. And as Jeff preached, fresh hope filled my mind and heart as I spent time reflecting on our glorious God. He is everlasting. He is the LORD. He is the Creator. I was reminded that God is not like me. He doesn’t run out of energy. He doesn’t start something and then not finish it. “This eternal God—this Creator God who made all things and sustains all things—he therefore doesn’t ‘faint’ or ‘grow weary.’ God never begins something and then realizes ‘this isn’t going to work.’ He’s calmly—inexorably—working out his purposes, neither hurried nor desperate. He’s the LORD. He’s the Creator.”
Oh, how I needed to be reminded of these truths! He is the Creator. He is at work in my life. And when I don’t perceive his activity, my perception is not the final word. The truth is that he is always at work. As Jeff unpacked the truth of God’s unsearchable understanding, I had a much-needed heart adjustment. I often assume I know what God is doing (or not doing) in my life. And I assess that work accordingly. In response to this inaccurate assessment, Jeff went on to say (referencing a statement John Piper has made), “We certainly know some things God is doing, but he’s also doing 1,000 other things you’re oblivious to! He’s present everywhere, at every point in space, with all of his being, working ceaselessly. And so there are two things we must never do: We must never doubt God’s ability. And, we must never expect to understand all his ways.”
Because of the greatness and goodness of our God, I can look to the future with hope. Personally, when trials seem to never end and waiting seems to be my new occupation, I can find myself growing apathetic. I’m just waiting on the Lord. As if that constitutes a lethargic biding of my time. Jeff’s unpacking of what it means to wait on the Lord has changed my paradigm and given me a very clear mental image of standing expectantly on my tip-toes, eagerly waiting on the Lord. The verb in this context of Isaiah 40 means “to wait expectantly, hopefully—to live with a confident expectation. Those who wait on the Lord live with a confident expectation of his action on their behalf. To put it in physical terms, you’re not slouched back in a chair drumming your fingers. Rather, you’re on tip-toes—watching, waiting, hoping, trusting.” This mental image frequently comes to mind, reminding me to wait with hope, not apathy or resignation—eagerly anticipating God’s activity!
If you find yourself soul weary, in the midst of an extended trial, or just in need of some encouragement, I highly recommend you give this message a listen or a re-listen. God has used it to profoundly alter the state of my heart—not only at the Pastors Conference, but many times since as I’ve listened to it again. He continues to use his words in Isaiah 40 to gently lift my gaze and to restore my hope.
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Summer photo from Shutterstock.
Melissa is the administrative assistant to the Sovereign Grace Pastors College and is a member of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.
Note: This is the sixth and final post in a series on Sovereign Grace’s Key Resources. Paul Buckley, who chairs Sovereign Grace’s Executive Committee, has contributed today’s post. We pray that God would use this series to strengthen your faith.
What is your reaction when you read the word “evangelism”? Do you get excited about seeing lives changed? Do you picture yourself as a missionary sharing the gospel with some remote tribe that converts in mass and immediately starts dancing and singing God’s praise? Or do you think of all of your failed attempts at sharing Christ using the latest method that have left you wondering if you ever actually could lead someone to believe in Jesus?
If you are like me, you probably vacillate between excitement at one point and discouragement at another, wondering if your experience of evangelism and mission to those needing Christ will ever change. I need help in this dilemma, and maybe you do too.
Ian McConnell understands our dilemma. Ian is a pastor and church leader who is experiencing God’s grace to successfully model and lead his church in a lifestyle of mission to those without Christ in inner city Philadelphia. His church is a place where believers are regularly involved in the life and needs of their neighbors, relating to and serving others while regularly sharing the gospel, and seeing people come to Christ. His church is also actively involved in reaching beyond their immediate locale through church planting. Ian and his church have a model and a message on mission worth our attention.
In this message from Mark 6:7–14, Ian unpacks some key concepts from God’s Word that can transform how we understand and practice mission. First and foremost, he teaches us that right practice of our mission of evangelism is rooted in our identity. Fundamental to our identity as believers is that we are both “saved by Jesus” and “sent by Jesus.”
To be a Christian means to live as a “sent one,” no matter our particular gifting or role in the body of Christ. If we don’t grasp our basic identity as sent ones, we will fail to live it out properly, just as we fail to live properly when we forget other key aspects of our identity such as our justification, our reconciliation with God, and our filling with the Holy Spirit.
Ian goes on to fill out this key truth by answering four questions from this passage:
- Who is sent?
- What are we sent for?
- How can we do what we are sent to do?
- Why are we sent?
He gives a biblical answer from the text for each question. These wise, scriptural answers can transform how you understand and practice mission and, as a result, how you feel and think when you hear the word, “evangelism.”
Do you feel the tension between desiring to be part of God’s mission yet often feeling perplexed about your feeble attempts? Take some time to listen to Ian’s message and don’t be surprised if you see yourself experiencing real change in this key aspect of the Christian life.
Download the message (right click and select “Save Target As”) or listen below:
Paul Buckley is a member of the Executive Committee of Sovereign Grace and serves as the lead pastor of King of Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He and his wife, Peggy, have four children.
Note: This is the fifth post in a series on Sovereign Grace’s Key Resources. Over the upcoming weeks, members of the Leadership Team will share why they commend each other’s resources to you. We pray that God would use them to strengthen your faith.
We live in a day when Christians readily toss out “gospel-centered” as an adjective to describe just about anything. Our songs, our sermons, our small groups, our children’s ministry, our counseling, even our blogs (like this one) are all “gospel-centered.” My fear is that the term is losing its power as a meaningful descriptor due to familiarity and overuse. We need a refresher on what the term means. More importantly, we need a compelling reminder of the gospel itself. And we need it regularly.
I recently heard a sermon that delivers this needed reminder. Rick Gamache’s sermon “We Are Gospel-Centered” is a passionate and inspiring explanation of the gospel from 1 Corinthians 15:1–10. The sermon launches a sermon series that Rick preached last summer called “Shared Values” in which he explores the seven shared values that unite Sovereign Grace churches. Rick shows how “gospel-centered doctrine and preaching” is the central shared value that joins us in a common mission.
Rick makes the point that it is easy for us to lose our grip on the gospel and slip into emotionalism, legalism, or condemnation. He explains how a clear grasp of the good news is a sure protection against each of these. Walking through the text, Rick highlights two of Paul’s emphases: the preeminence of the gospel and the power of the gospel. He skillfully opens up the passage, describing both what Jesus did for us and what difference it makes. The sermon concludes with a very practical application revealing how we can make gospel connections to real life issues.
With a relentless focus on Christ’s objective work and a real-world application of the text, “We Are Gospel-Centered” is an edifying sermon filled with the good news. Rick takes us beyond gospel labels and slogans to the reality of what is “of first importance” for our churches and our individual lives. I heartily commend this message to anyone from new believer to seasoned saint.
Download the message (right click and select “Save Target As”) or listen below:
Craig is Sovereign Grace’s Director of Church Development and the senior pastor of Grace Church in Frisco, Texas. He and his wife, Ginger, have four children and one grandson.