Thursday, September 28, 2006

Carson on Prayer

One of the Wednesday night classes at our church this semester is studying D. A. Carson’s book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His prayers. I bought this book 10 years ago, and it has been a significant help, challenge, and encouragement to me in many ways. I recommend it heartily. It has been helpful to take biblical prayers as models for my praying. It really is a simple idea but one I had not seriously considered before reading this book. Here are some quotes from his introduction on the need of the church to be serious about prayer.

“The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.” (15)

“One of the foundational steps in knowing God, and one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God, is prayer – spiritual, persistent, biblically minded prayer. . . . Robert Murray M’Cheyne declared, ‘What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.’” (16)

“Where is our delight in praying? . . . How much of our praying is largely formulaic, liberally larded with clich├ęs that remind us, uncomfortably, of the hypocrites Jesus excoriated?” (16)

“…is it not nevertheless true that by and large we are better at organizing than agonizing? Better at administering than interceding? Better at fellowship than fasting? Better at entertainment than worship? Better at theological articulation than spiritual adoration? Better – God help us! – at preaching than at praying?” (16)

[quoting J.I. Packer] “I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face.” (16)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Chruch Discipline and Revival

Last week I posted about preaching on the church during a series of “Revival” meetings, arguing that if we truly want to see revival we must begin with the church. I also commented on preaching on church discipline in one of the services. While in my experience it seems church discipline would be the least likely topic considered for such a setting, it seemed to me to be one of the most obvious topics once I thought about it. I remembered hearing that a return to discipline in churches in the past had at times been a precursor to revival. So I went back to Greg Wills’s excellent book Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900and found the quotes below. Before going to the quotes, however, let me earnestly recommend this book. It is very readable and provides many useful insights to our current church situation.

This first quote makes the point in and of itself:
“Pastor T.H. Stout took the occasion of a revival to inculcate the doctrine [of church discipline]. The members of Bethel Baptist Church became zealous for discipline and excluded two offenders. Stout recounted the result:
Very soon, a perceptible improvement was seen in the church. Brethren began to take up their crosses. They met and conversed on the condition of Zion, confessing and bewailing their coldness. Brethren, discipline is the life of our churches. We have no right to look for the blessing of our precious Savior unless we ‘come out from the world.’ Be ‘ye separate,’ says God. . . . May not many of our churches be incurring the displeasure of the ‘Great Head of the Church’ by laxity of discipline? During July…the church was greatly revived. . . . Quite a number of brethren prayed [publicly] who had never done so before. . . . Twenty-four were added to the church; 12 by experience and baptism, and 12 by letter.’
Discipline brought revival.” (p. 36)
Then, these other quotes I also found helpful:

“Through discipline, they would, moreover, sweep the nation, for they believed that God rewarded faithful pruning by raining down revival.” (p. 8)

“After the Civil War, Baptist observers began to lament that church discipline was foundering, and it was. It declined partly because it became more burdensome in larger churches. … Urban churches, pressed by the need for large buildings and the desire for refined music and preaching, subordinated church discipline to the task of keeping the church solvent. Many Baptists shared a new vision of the church, replacing the pursuit of purity with the quest for efficiency. They lost the resolve to purge their churches of straying members.” (p. 9)

“Baptists saw discipline as a source of spiritual revival. A church with no discipline was no church. ‘When discipline leaves a church,’ Baptist theologian John L. Dagg contended, ‘Christ goes with it.’” (p. 33)

“Mississippi Baptist Elias Hibbard, who worried about excessive discipline, conceded its benefits: ‘I am aware that discipline when exercised in a proper manner is the life of our churches, and often precedes the blessings of the Almighty.’” (p. 34)

“Even with ‘the elegant preaching and eloquent prayers and the splendid appearances,’ Baptists reasoned, ‘no church can prosper spiritually if there is no discipline. . . nothing is more essential to church prosperity than the maintenance of faithful discipline.’” (p. 35)

“one of the churches that [Jesse] Mercer planted continued to intone that ‘correct
discipline is the life of the Church, without it the Church is despised by the world, shorn of its power & will soon fall to pieces.’” (p. 35)

“Mercer believed that ‘most of our church difficulties grow out of neglected church discipline’ or discipline improperly administered.” (p. 35)

These are useful words for our day. Let us affirm the great desire to see renewal in the church in our day. We do indeed long to see God move mightily among His people renewing the church and converting the lost. However, all the talk about this is surely futile (to the point of being silly) if we are not willing to conform ourselves to His word, to take one of the clear steps he has provided us for the pursuit of holiness. The call for a return to church discipline does not (or ought not) arise merely from historic nostalgia, legalism, exclusivism or rash youth but for a desire for the salvation of souls and a renewal of the church- those things which will bring glory to God.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stewart on Preaching the Good News

I have come across another old book of sermons by James S. Stewart, the prominent Scottish preacher of the mid-20th century. I have previously posted quotes from his book on missions (first post; second post; third post).

This book, The Strong Name, was published in 1941 so I imagine the sermons were originally preached in the early days of WW II. This seems to be the point in the opening of his sermon “The Romance of Orthodoxy.” Preaching from 2 Kings 7:9 he rebukes the idea which was apparently (and understandably) current then that “these are bad days and not time for the announcing of good news.” Stewart rebukes such an idea for the church by pointing to the Gospel. No matter our situation we have been loved and redeemed by God! Stewart closes the sermon with the following words which are a good exhortation to us in any day. Perhaps it is especially good as we approach Sunday and many of us will be preaching. Proclaim the Gospel, brothers!

If the Church were witnessing with all her might, and in all her members, to the things which she most surely believes and by which she lives, how incalculable might be her achievement in this perplexed, distracted generation! If we, the children of Zion whose captivity God has ended, had our mouths filled with singing for the gladness of that great deliverance, what threatening shadows might be scattered, what dark and dreary places flooded with the blessed light of hope! If every professing Christian were a veritable ambassador of Christ, how the royal banners of His Kingdom would go from strength to strength, conquering and to conquer! This is a day of good tidings. One thing is needful. The world cries for it. Honour claims it. Christ commands it. Send the good tidings on!


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kierkegaard in KJ

I continue to benefit from reading Kairos Journal, the online resource for pastors. You must register, but it is free.

The following is from KJ. The first paragraph is an editorial introduction to the quote (second paragraph) from Kierkegaard. This is a much needed exhortations to pastors, lest we play at our task, willing to rebuke the sins of the world, but unwilling to address the sin in our own congregation, flying the banner of inerrancy while conveniently avoiding difficult texts concerning issues like church discipline or ministerial pride.

Kierkegaard has received well-deserved criticism from modern evangelical theologians. Nevertheless, the following passage taken from his Journal powerfully exposes the terrible problems that develop when the Church fails to understand the seriousness of her task in the world. To the Church of his day, Kierkegaard exhorted: your battle is spiritual, and war is grim business: get on with it. To the preacher, he underscored the need for risky sermons, which could cost him his comfort, his position, and even his life.

We all know what it is to play warfare in mock battle, that it means to imitate everything just as it is in war. The troops are drawn up, they march into the field, seriousness is evident in every eye, but also courage and enthusiasm, the orderlies rush back and forth intrepidly, the commander’s voice is heard, the signals, the battle cry, the volley of musketry, the thunder of cannon–everything exactly as in war, lacking only one thing . . . the danger.
So also it is with playing Christianity, that is, imitating Christian preaching in such a way that everything, absolutely everything is included in as deceptive a form as possible–only one thing is lacking . . . the danger.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Preaching this week

From Sunday until this Wed (9/17-20) I am preaching in a “series of meetings” at a church here in town. I have explained to the people that I will approach these services in a way perhaps not typical of Revival meetings. I have argued that if we truly want revival, we must start with the church being the church- the people of God must get right first. Therefore, I am preaching on the church. Sunday morning I preached on the identity of the church from 1 Tim 3:14-16. In the evening I took up Ephesians 4 :1-16 pointing out that Paul describes gospel living in terms tied up with living in community (contra our typically over individualistic views of holiness, Christian growth) and that Paul in this passage stresses the importance of each member, that no one can grow as they ought unless their church around them functions properly. Thus, your own growth will be hindered if your church is not being healthy. Also, your fellow members cannot flourish as they ought if you are not supplying to the body. This is a crucial point in light of the fact that in most churches about 50% of the people on the membership roll have not attended in years.

This evening then I preached from Heb 3:12-4:16 pointing out that the author presents three antidotes to apostasy, answers to how God supplies for His people to persevere. The first one, that receives most attention in this text, is the community itself. There is strong language here about watching over one another, exhorting one another daily which presumes significant interaction between church members between Sundays. The other two then are exposure to the Word of God and drawing near to our High Priest.

I think tomorrow I will then preach from 1 Cor 5 on church discipline. Historically the renewal of discipline has often sparked revival, so it would seem to be a very appropriate (though atypical) topic.

I am convinced that if we really want to be effective in evangelism we must get serious about the purity and integrity of the church. For too long we have ignored this and sought to just “get ‘em in.” Surely we can see the lack of effectiveness of this approach. Scripture would call us to another way.

Lastly, this church is a great group of people with a real hunger for the Word. I am encouraged by them and their faithful pastor.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Jehovah, Shepherd of My Soul

Randall Bush, my creative colleague who's field is philosphy but is also a gifted musician and poet, has set out to compose a hymn dedicated to each of the faculty members of the School of Christian Studies here. This week he passed on this one for me. Taking the oversight theme, he begins with the 23rd Psalm and moves to the Good Shepherd passage. See what you think.

Jehovah, Shepherd of My Soul

Jehovah, Shepherd of My Soul,
Let Thy staff my steps direct.
May Thy crook of comfort my heart console
Through dark death’s vale protect
In pleasant pastures greened by grace
Make Thou my soul to lie
By peaceful waters wind my ways
Till I to Thy fold draw nigh.

Good Shepherd, Jesus, save Thy sheep,
Our wayward souls restore.
From robbers, thieves, and ravenous beasts
Secure Thy sheepfold’s door.
Away from sin’s entangling snares
Direct our straying feet,
Of strangers’ lures let us beware,
As we hear and follow Thee.

“If you love me,” sounds the Shepherd’s voice,
“Then feed my hung’ring sheep.”
To deny him can never be our choice
If our love for him runs deep
As Jesus did his life lay down
His sheep one flock to make,
May we His gift of love compound
In our service for his sake.

Great Shepherd guide us to Thy fold
When life’s great course concludes
Past starry heavens bring our souls,
To realms of highest good,
Till we find Mercy’s mystic source,
Shall drink from Goodness’ well,
And in Thy house forevermore
Secure with Thee shall dwell.

Added Note: Dr. Bush has also composed an original tune which I hope to get to hear soon. If I can find someone tech savy enough, maybe it can be posted too.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Pastoral Plagiarism Revisited

Those who have been reading this blog for sometime may remember the interchange that took place here last March on Pastoral Plagiarism (post 1, post 2, post 3). These posts brought a bit of traffic and some strong debate. An edited version of the original post has this week been published in the “Baptist and Reflector”, the TN Baptist state paper, under the title Pastors must be messengers of God, not ‘talking heads’. I hope to raise this issue in local church life because this seems to be a rising problem. I continue to receive email from people who have discovered that their pastors are preaching sermons taken directly from other men or lifted directly from a book. These people are shocked and feel betrayed. Whatever sort of rationalizing a pastor might do, the fact is that the pastor’s integrity is seriously blemished by this. This issue needs to be raised and addressed for the good of the church.

Joe Thorn is also discussing this here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I’ve obviously been out of blogging for a while. Some have heard what has happened and have inquired, so I thought I’d give a brief update. Last Thursday afternoon my oldest son, Nathan, was struck by a truck. It was a hectic time getting information, getting to the ER, him being sent by helicopter to LeBonheur to Memphis, etc. In the end he had only one serious injury, a depressed skull fracture which punctured the membrane surrounding the brain. That was serious enough, but there could have been so much more. At LeBonheur we had a great surgeon who repaired the fracture and membrane. Now Nathan is totally fine. The doctor sent us home Sunday morning with all clear.

Many have called and written telling us of their prayers, and we are very grateful. We have been very blessed. So many have been helpful, caring, etc. Friends and family came through in so many ways. We were reminded again of the importance of community.

Praise be to God!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Great Conference this Weekend

I just received word from James Grant, pastor of FBC Rossville, TN, that their Fall Bible Conference which begins this Friday (Sept 8) will feature Dr. Dan Block speaking on the theme “The Gospel According to Moses: Recovering the Message of Deuteronomy.” You can view the conference brochure here. The conference will run from 7pm-9pm Friday night and then 9am to 2pm Saturday with lunch provided and the cost is only $10!! That’s amazing. There is also a special session for church leaders at 2:30. Dr. Block will also speak twice on Sunday.

I did not find out about this in time to attend myself, but I wanted to let anyone else know who might have the chance to attend. You can find contact info at the church website or on the conference brochure.