“We are a purchased people. The Bible shows that this makes all the difference in how life is lived. We exist to proclaim and to praise the glory of the One who purchased us.”
Pastor Dan Cummings

Four years today, Pastor Dan Cummings was called home to swim forever in the ocean of God’s love after a 10-month battle with cancer. He was a beloved husband, father, pastor and friend. But what I am grateful for this morning is that he was a true mentor. In the short time we labored together in the ministry of the glorious gospel at Five Points, He taught me much about being a man, husband, father, pastor and friend. In Our Time, it is rare to find a man who is not afraid to think rigorously about God, his gospel and its vast implications for every area of life. Even rarer is finding a man who “if you cut him would bleed Bibline”. Dan was both of these and I am thankful to God for his influence in my life. 

In a sermon given on November 14, 2004 entitled, By His Grace and for His Glory: A God-Entranced Witness, Pastor Dan said, “If you did nothing else in your vapor-like existence except be a faithful witness to the glory of God in Christ, you would have lived. But if you did everything else and the whole world was your acclaim and everything you wanted to accomplish got accomplished… but were not a witness to the glory of God in Christ? God’s evaluation is: You Never Lived. It was absolutely worthless.” He shepherded his flock under this banner. In the power of the Spirit, he preached of the great worth of God in Christ to a world that wants to relegate God to the periphery. He faithfully called us to give our lives by following the Great Shepherd of the sheep as he fixed our eyes on the glory of Christ. For in giving our life for the glory of God in Christ, we would come to find it!

The way Pastor Dan would want us to remember him today is for our remembrance to be more about our Great God than about him. So let us plod on together in the power of the Spirit remembering that every breath we are given is by God grace so that we would live for his glory.

Christmas music begins playing at our house about two seconds after October ends. Now I’m no Scrooge about it, but if our iPod is going to be burning up the holiday playlists for a couple months, I like to add some new music to the mix. So about two seconds after October ends, I excitedly begin to look for newly released albums or older ones that I haven’t come across in previous searches. As Advent means “coming”, the best holiday music not only helps you celebrate Christ’s birth, but helps you anticipate Christ’s return as well. I hope these albums both lead you and your families into greater joy that God sent His Son to save His people from their sins and builds your expectation for His coming again. For one day, Jesus will put death’s dark shadows to flight once and for all!

Must-Have Advent Albums:

Behold The Lamb Of God, Andrew Peterson

Glory In The Highest, Shane & Shane

Advent – Vol. 1, The Brilliance

Glory In The Highest, Chris Tomlin

Advent Songs, Sojourn

 

Our Favorite New Advent Albums:

A Day Of Glory (Songs for Christmas), Austin Stone Community Church

Glad Tidings – Christmas Songs Vol. 4, Folk Angel

We Have A Savior, Hillsong

Advent – Vol. 2, The Brilliance

 

Other Favorite Advent Albums:

Oh For Joy, David Crowder*Band

Christmas Songs and Headed Home and Comfort & Joy, Folk Angel

Advent Christmas EP, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Future of Forestry

On The Incarnation, Daniel Renstrom

Over The Hills And Everywhere, Seabird

A Child Is Born, Sojourn

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;
        before the gods I sing your praise;
    I bow down toward your holy temple
        and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
        for you have exalted above all things
        your name and your word.
Psalm 138:1-2

Isn’t it funny the things that make us happy? It is amazing what a little warm weather, fresh air and sunshine produces in us Michiganders. Oh the praise we can heap upon the blazing sun for breaking up the bleak winter days! That is no surprise given that we were created to worship. However, we all know that summer does not last and the happiness found in it is fleeting. We will find ourselves perpetually in want if we seek our joy in anything but God. So then, what things can we stake our lives upon that will not fade away nor in the end leave us wanting more?
In Psalm 138, David points us to the two things God has made great in all the earth by setting them above all things in all creation, namely His name and His word. David can exalt in these two things along with the One True God because he has experienced the saving, redeeming grace of God in his life. We see this in two ways in this psalm. God’s word reveals His purposes. Throughout the Bible, we see a God who keeps His promises. When God speaks, we hear what He intends to do and the record of Scripture shows that these purposes are always fulfilled. Therefore, because our God not only makes great promises, but actually fulfills them, His Name is also exalted. He does not just make commitments, He keeps them. It is inextricably wrapped up in His character to do so. So we are brought to praise God with our whole heart (v. 1) because He is steadfast love, He is faithful and He will bring us safely through the circumstances of life! What kind of rejoicing does this produce in the lives of God’s people? The kind that not only praises God for His amazing greatness, but flaunts this greatness in the faces of the false gods of Our Time (v. 2).
But to spend our lives exalting and finding joy in these two things that will never leave us in want, we first need to remember. The pattern we find throughout this psalm is David calling to mind what God has done which leads him to praise who God is. Who is this God who has captured David’s affections? He is a God who first loved us (v. 2), who acts for His people (v. 3) and who dwells with His people (v. 6).
As the psalm ends, we are reminded to value God’s name and word above all things and orient our lives around them. The way to walk through the reality of human experience is to daily, and sometimes moment by moment, remind ourselves of the truth of God’s deliverance. We must recall to mind the rock solid reality of God’s commitment to His Word and Name, which promises His people more than we can possibly imagine. And isn’t it interesting that the psalmist closes not by reminding himself of this truth, but by humbly reminding God himself. So one way David gives us to press ourselves deep into the the promises of God is to set our hearts away from self-reliance and upon God’s name and word by reminding ourselves of His amazing grace, that it is He alone that saves, that He will save His people because He has promised to do so, and He will do so because He has exalted not His people above all things, but His name and His word. So God does not mind when we come desperate (v. 6): desperately seeking, desperately asking and even desperately reminding Him to not forsake the work of His hands for His name and glory (v. 8). So let us make this a month to remember and rejoice in God’s love & faithfulness.

resolved: student ministries went to Camp Barakel for winter retreat two weekends ago. On the drive north Friday evening, it started to snow and it didn’t stop until a foot of fresh snow had fallen. It was a wet, heavy snow that knocked out power across the northeast Lower Pennisula. The storm caused camp to lose power early Saturday morning and that, in turn, caused our winter retreat to be cut short because they could not heat the cabins in the near zero temperatures. But in all of the chaos of a Michigan blizzard and the changing retreat plans, I stepped outside the back of the East Side dining hall and was confronted with a beautiful sight. Green pines and tall brown oaks were totally white. It looked as if every tree and its branches were not real trees, but were made completely of snow. An iPhone camera just does not do it justice.

The chills that went up my back were not from the cold. It was a powerful reminder of the gospel-pointing beauty of God’s snow in Isaiah 1.18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Because of the blood Jesus shed on the cross, the guilt of the sins of God’s people is effectively cleansed. But not only that, as Alec Motyer comments, “the Lord’s promise is not only to deal with the stain of sin but with the nature from which it springs.” That’s why the picture above was simply a gospel-pointing reminder. The trees were still there under all that snow… they were covered, but they were still trees. But if anyone is in Christ Jesus, they are a new creations (2 Corinthians 5.17). Jesus didn’t just cover our sins, He gave us new life in Him. Oh the powerful blood of our glorious Savior! As winter gives way to spring, may we remember the new life that springs forth in those who are in Christ. The cold grip in which death once held us is broken. Though our sins were like scarlet, they are white as snow.

“But God’s firm foundation stands . . .” 2 Timothy 2:19

The foundation upon which our faith rests is that “Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The great facts on which genuine faith relies is, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), that “for Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18), and that “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24).

In one word, the great pillar of the Christian’s hope is substitution. The vicarious sacrifice of Christ for the guilty, Christ being made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, Christ offering up a true and proper expiatory and substitutionary sacrifice in the room, place, and stead of as many as the Father gave him, who are known to God by name, and are recognized in their own hearts by their trusting in Jesus—this is the cardinal fact of the gospel. If this foundation were removed, what could we do? But it stands firm as the throne of God.

We know it, we rest on it, we rejoice in it, and our delight is to hold it, to meditate upon it, and to proclaim it while we desire to be actuated and moved by gratitude for it in every part of our life and conversation.

In these days a direct attack is made upon the doctrine of the atonement. Men cannot bear substitution. They gnash their teeth at the thought of the Lamb of God bearing the sin of man.

But we, who know by experience the preciousness of this truth, will proclaim it in defiance of them confidently and unceasingly. We will neither dilute it nor change it, nor fritter it away in any shape or fashion. It shall still be Christ, a positive substitute, bearing human guilt and suffering in the stead of men. We cannot, dare not, give it up, for it is our life, and despite every controversy we feel that “God’s firm foundation stands.”

~ Charles Spurgeon

(HT: The Resurgence)

The following is the closing of Pastor Dan’s first sermon in his first preaching series at Five Points entitled, The Ten Words on Religious Affection. This sermon, The First Word on Religious Affection: No God But God, was preached on December 14, 1997. You can find the sermons here:

“The Christian, when he comes to die, even the bad [frowning providences in life] is good. Does that mean that when you go to the doctor and the biopsy comes back and it’s not a favorable thing that you go running around cheering, “Yay! Yay! I have cancer!”? No. When that biopsy doesn’t come back well and you’re laying in that hospital room, in the depths of it, what God do you believe in? This will be good in the end… What do we really believe? Where is our trust? Where do we run for our security, our help, our satisfaction, and our pleasure and our joy? Dan runs too often to the gods of this age and my guess is that you might not be a whole lot different than I am. No, we find our satisfaction and joy and pleasure in Christ and in Christ alone, the only True and Sovereign One… What God do we really believe in? We’re commanded to have no other god but God. So the questions stands: Where’s my trust and what do I believe? The gods of this age or the God of the ages?”

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Those who truly serve God are made to feel more and more forcibly that ‘life is real, life is earnest’, if it indeed be life in Christ. In times of great pain, and weakness, and depression, it has come over me to hope that, if I should again recover, I should be more intense than ever; if I could be privileged to climb the pulpit stairs again, I resolved to leave out every bit of flourish from my sermons, to preach nothing but present and pressing truth, and to hurl it at the people with all my might; myself living at high pressure, and putting forth all the energy of which my being is capable. I suppose you, too, have felt like this when you have been laid aside. You have said to yourself, ‘Playtime is over with us, we must get to work. Parade is ended, now comes the tug of war. We must not waste a single moment, but redeem the time, because the days are evil. When we see the wonderful activity of the servants of Satan, and how much they accomplish, we may well be ashamed of ourselves that we do so little for our Redeemer, and that the little is often done so badly that it takes as long to set it right as we spent in the doing of it. Brethren, let us cease from regrets, and come to actual amendment.'” [An All Around Ministry, 162]

Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Evaluation of ministry is good and necessary, but moving forward from the lessons learned by the grace of God is better. God’s mercies are new every morning and even if have wasted time in the past, God is sovereign in using our rags for His glory. But let us not waste a single moment in our service for Christ because “playtime is over”. Let us put our full effort into being faithful to God and to His word in every aspect of our lives, laboring with all our might for His glory and at the end of each day as the chips fall where they may, rest in the glorious truth that “Our God is in the heavens, He does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115.3), including using mere men for the glory of His name however He should choose.

“Having made Jesus your all, you shall find all in Jesus.”

Charles Spurgeon

Through the Gospel, you begin to find that the more you put your energy into knowing and loving Jesus, the more satisfying He becomes and the more the things of this world taste like the death they are. Colossians 2.9-10 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” We are filled in Christ! All your heart desires, all you think you want to find in this life, everything you hope the things of this world like your possessions, your looks, your friends, your family, your job, your achievements, you accolades… everything you hope to find satisfaction in is already yours in Christ. It’s already yours!! Praise be to the amazing grace of God who made us “alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:13-15).

Of the publishing of books, there is no end. And for book lovers, that is not a bad thing! However, there is nothing like the disappoint in putting time and energy into a book only to put it down in disappointment. So in an effort to help you kick off 2012 with a pile of good books to read, here are a few of my favorites from 2011 that would benefit the body at Five Points.

Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson ~ Wonderful help here for those who are raising children or for those about to. Definitely one of the best parenting books I’ve ever read.

The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders ~ The Trinity is widely believed by evangelicals, but “rarely is it fully understood or celebrated.” And with a subtitle like “How The Trinity Changes Everything”, you may think you’re about to be disappointed. You won’t be. If you own a Kindle, there is no excuse to not have it for only $2.99!

Union With Christ by Robert Letham ~ If the Trinity is largely assumed and rarely understood, then the doctrine of union with Christ is a close second. At 140 pages, it serves as a tremendous introduction, but doesn’t waste one inch of those 140 pages. It may not look like much, but a rich feast awaits for the reader.

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller ~ There are a number of biblical, helpful and excellent marriage resources for the evangelical, reformed couple. This is one of the best.

King’s Cross by Tim Keller ~ A provoking journey through the Gospel of Mark. In the preface Keller writes: “Mark wants us to see that the coming of Jesus calls for decisive action… Therefore we need to respond actively. We can’t remain neutral. We may not sit and reflect and find excuses for not changing our lives now.”

A New Testament Biblical Theology by Greg Beale ~ Still working through this one, but it is oustading! Coming in at 1072 pages, it is not for the faint of heart, but well worth the work!

Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson ~ You might believe the gospel, but do you find yourself rejoicing in it daily? Wilson will help you approach the gospel afresh and see how it renews our affections for our glorious Savior.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian ~ One of the better “gospel” books that was published in 2011. Tullian writes as a pastor and calls Christians to reorient their lives around the gospel.

“True faith takes its character and quality from its object and not from itself. Faith gets a man out of himself and into Christ. Its strength therefore depends on the character of Christ. Even those of us who have weak faith have the same strong Christ as others!”

~ Sinclair Ferguson,  The Christian Life

(HT: Tullian Tchividjian @ The Resurgence)

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