Saturday, June 30, 2007

Paton and the Cannibals

As promised, here is a quote from The Greatest Century of Missions.
In describing the determination of the 19th century missionaries, Hammond relates this great exchange from John Paton.

“Amongst many who sought to deter me, was one dear old Christian gentleman, whose crowning argument was, ‘The Cannibals! You will be eaten by Cannibals!’ At last I replied, ‘Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms’.” (133)

Yes! I find myself wishing to have such quick wit, and then more importantly yearning to be marked by such clarity of purpose.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Greatest Century of Missions, review

Peter Hammond. The Greatest Century of Missions. Cape Town, South Africa: Christian Liberty Books, 1982. pb. 146 pp.

I read this book over Christmas break and have been waiting since then to post something about it. It is such a good book, I have kept putting off writing “until I could really do it justice.” Well, that time may never come so here is an attempt.

This is a dynamic discussion of missions, well-written and crafted to inspire, motivate and challenge. This is not dry, abstract discussion. This is moving sermonic book.

The overall point of the book is to ask what inspired the great missionary thrust of the 19th century so that we might seek to have another such bold advance today. He briefly lays out the evidence for the claim that the 19th century was the greatest century of missions (Carey, Livingstone, etc.). Then he first notes three key, common characteristics of missionaries at this time:
1. Sacrifice and Service- He makes the point that they saw sacrifice and hardship as simply part of the call, and therefore willingly endured things which are hard for us to imagine today. Hammond here chastises our pursuit of comfort.

Hammond writes: “A mission organisation wrote to David Livingstone asking: ‘Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to send other men to join you.’ Livingstone replied: ‘If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come even if there is no road at all.’” (p. 6)

2. They were interested in body, mind and soul. They were not simply seeking professions of faith, but they sought to see the gospel transform all of society. He points to Carey as an example as he sought not only to start churches but to set up schools and to effect local laws.

3. They had an eschatology of victory. He basically is referring to post-millenialism. They expected to see the gospel change the world, instead of expecting the world to deteriorate as so many today do. In the end I am not convinced of post-millenialism, but we ought to learn something about expecting to see the gospel advance instead of the overly pessimistic expectation sometimes produced by certain brands of pre-millenialism. The hope of victory is what drove these pioneers of the past onward, what convinced them that any sacrifice was worth it.
He quotes William Carey- “. . .We are neither working at uncertainty nor afraid for the result. . . He must reign until Satan has not an inch of territory!” (p. 8)

Later (chapter 5) he makes the argument that Reformed theology (particularly the sovereignty of God in salvation) is what empowered this great mission advance.

All of these are useful points. The best part of the book though is recounting of missionary examples. Some you probably have heard of before, but having them all in one “well told” source is great. This would be a good book to hand to people to challenge them to think more seriously about our obligation to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

This is long enough for now. So I will post some further quotes in subsequent posts.

Monday, June 25, 2007

God Pursuing Sinners

Last month I was privileged to preach on Luke 15, one of my favorite texts, at our church. This is such a rich and amazing text. It reminds us that God is indeed “rich in mercy” (Eph 2), that God is the great evangelist, pursuing sinful people like us in spite of us. It is amazing to see that God rejoices in the salvation of sinners! Why should he choose to be pleased with rescuing us? Then the text is bracketed with rebuke of the self-righteous, challenging us to consider whether we are as interested in reaching the lost as God is.

Here are a few excerpts from my pondering of this text:

God rejoices over the salvation of the lost. Do you? Does it move you?
If we can see people saved and be unmoved something in desperately wrong.
If we can fail to see people saved and be unmoved something in desperately wrong.
Before moving on to the next parable let me pause here to say to those here today who are not converted. Do you realize that the Creator, the One who made you, against whom you have rebelled, who does not need any of us, that He is today seeking to save people like you. Will you reject such a gracious offer from God? Children who do not have new hearts- How about you?
Believers: Remember the pigsty! Can you still smell it? The only reason you ever left it is that the Father, the great shepherd came and found you. Then he received you with this kind of joy
The Self-Righteous Brother
This is the jab at the religious leaders. While the father rejoices over sinners restored these only think of themselves and their supposed righteousness.
The question for us is not: “Have you ever abandoned the Father and run off to the far country.” Rather the question is whether you realize and can admit that you have. Some people’s sin is more obvious than others, but we have all abandoned the father. This son rebels against the father by not joining in His joy. Is this you?
Are you worried about not being recognized appropriately for you godliness or your service?
Do you fail to join in the joy of the Father over people being restored, souls rescued?

Probably most of us would not identify ourselves with this readily, so let me probe it further. What leads one to such a self-righteous position. Perhaps any number of things, but pride must be one of the key traps. Beware the allure of spiritual pride! Do you glory in your grasp of biblical or theological truths? Are you fond of speculative talk and debate? Then beware. Flee from the snare of pride, by facing squarely this sophisticated pig pen and confessing that your ‘high falutin’ ponderings are merely dressed up pig food. Cry out with Paul, ”God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of Christ.”

The Table
It is entirely fitting that our examination of this passage lead us to the Lord’s Table. Just as the Father in this parable, representing God, beckons his son to the Table (the feast), so we are invited today. This is the feast given for all of us sinners who repent. This is why we will be received by the Father. As this text makes clear this Table is not for those who are confident in their own self-righteousness. No, such people are forbidden. Rather it is for those who know they have gone off to the far country. It is for those who are all too familiar with the pig pen, indeed perhaps the stench still lingers. It is for such people who have nevertheless repented and come to the Father.

You can access the audio here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart, Review

Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart , John Ensor
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), pb., 160 pp.

I just finished reading this great book, and our church is working on getting copies for our book table at church. I have seen Ensor’s first book but have not been able to read it yet. Now, I am keen to do so, because he really has a way with words and he uses them to communicate sound truths.

This book deals with the issue of male/female relationships. It seems to me that the first audience in view is singles and the secondary audience is married people. Both groups can benefit from this book. Ensor writes with conviction and passion, frank and to the point. He does not pull any punches. He speaks out of the experiences of ministry leading a crisis pregnancy center. I found myself thinking, “I like this guy!” This is a book to have on hand to give away because it could be of great help to people in a number of situations.

Here are some quotes to illustrate some of his points as well as his style.

“It is one thing to act foolishly – to be a simpleton – when buying a used car. It is another when it comes to matters of the heart. The stakes are infinitely higher. Failure here means weeping into tear-stained pillows through sleepless nights. It means hot flashes of shame. It means spiritual incapacitation when it comes to things like prayer and worship.” (p. 12)

“I have talked to teens who, unfortunately, listened attentively in their sex education classes and now in their twenties, sit astonished in the discovery that there is no condom for the heart!” (p. 19)

“Hormones and oxytocin bond us to those with whom we share a bed, but what it means to love beyond merely making love does not come from chemistry; it comes from theology. It comes from parenting. It comes by learning.” (p. 44)

“Models of good marriages are books in clothes. The church was my library.” (p. 58)

“Women lack confidence in their desire to be a wife and mother. It is acceptable as a side dish, but should it be the main dish, something must be wrong with them. Men who want to do the right thing toward women are now unsure if it is okay even to open a car door for them.” (p. 59)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Faithful Preacher, Book Review

The Faithful Preacher, Thabiti Anyabwile
(Crossway, 2007), pb., 191 pp.

I have not yet finished reading this book, but after reading the first sermon by Lemuel Haynes, I knew this is a keeper and one to commend to the readers of this blog.

In this book Anyabwile briefly introduces three pioneering African-American pastors and then gives us a selection of their sermons. The very first sermon in the book is an ordination sermon on Hebrews 13:17! This is a key text in my mind on pastoral ministry (hence the name of this blog), but I do not find it much discussed these days. This sermon on this text is incredible- searching, weighty, powerful- ingredients often missing but sorely needed in pastoral ministry today.

Appropriate to his text, Haynes expounds powerfully the need to fulfill our calling in view of the account we will one day give directly to God. As much as I talk about this verse, I desperately need exhortations like this sermon. Here are a few quotes:

The goal of preaching:

“It is the design of preaching to make things ready for the day of judgment . . . . We are fitting men for the Master’s use, preparing affairs for that decisive court.” (p. 29)

“When he studies his sermons, this will not be the inquiry, ‘How shall I form my discourse so as to please and gratify the humors of men and get their applause?’ but ‘How shall I preach so as to do honor to God and meet with the approbation of my Judge?’ This will be his daily request at the throne of grace. This will be ten thousand times better than the vain flattery of men. His discourse will not be calculated to gratify the carnal heart; rather he will not shun to declare the whole counsel of God.” (p. 32)

If we would heed this we would not be worried about giving a good performance and there would be no interest in downloading the sermons of others. I think much less time would be given to the frilly silliness so often seen and we would be in earnest to simply know what the text says and how to explain that to our people.

The importance of oversight:

“They who watch for souls as those who expect to give account will endeavor to know as much as they may the state of the souls committed to their charge, that they may be in a better capacity to do them good . . . . when they see souls taken by the enemy, they will exert themselves to deliver them from the snare of the devil.” (p. 33)

This aspect has been mentioned often here, but it is refreshing to hear yet one more faithful pastor from our past remind us that we must know our people and watch over them. The distant “preaching head” approach simply will not cut it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Best Friends

Grant, George & Karen Grant. Best Friends: The Ordinary Relationships of Extraordinary People. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 1998.

I have previously commented on another Grant book, Shelf Life: How Books Have Changed the Destinies and Desires of Men and Nations. This book is a companion volume written in the same format- vignettes and compiled quotes. It is an easy read, encouraging and challenging. One of the most common challenges for pastors is developing close friendships, dealing with isolation. This book rightly holds up the value of friendship as a gift from God. It is not aimed at pastors, but in reading I did think of the difficulty of so many pastors who feel isolated and alone. This book might encourage you to seek out real friendships in your labor. What a blessing it is when you can have true friends laboring as pastors right alongside you! This is a joy I am blessed to know.

Here are a few quotes:

“All kinds of things rejoiced my soul in the company of my friends – to talk and laugh and do other kindnesses; read pleasant books together, pass form lightest jesting to talk of the deepest things and back again; differ without rancour, as a man might differ with himself, and when most rarely dissension arose find our normal agreement all the sweeter for it; teach each other or learn from each other; be impatient for the return of the absent, and welcome them with joy on their homecoming; these and such like things, proceeding from our hearts as we gave affection and received it back, and shown by face, by voice, by the eyes, and a thousand other pleasing ways, kindled a flame which infused our very souls and of many made us one. This is what men value in friends.” – St. Augustine

“A friend hears the song of the heart and sings it when memory fails.” – Martin Luther

“Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” – George Washington

“We love those who know the worst of us and don’t turn their faces away.” – John Buchan

“…it is seeing ourselves in the context of community, of relationships, and of friendships that ultimately give meaning to our search for meaning and purpose in life. Indeed, no man is an island.” – Andrew Nelson Lytle

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pastoral Ministry According to Paul

Pastoral Ministry According to Paul, James W. Thompson
(Baker, 2006), pb., 174 pp.

I have previously commented on my appreciation of the basic direction of this book and its critique of common contemporary conceptions of pastoral ministry. I have more recently finished reading the book and submitted my review to the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. I can’t post my complete review here before it goes to print, but I did want to briefly commend the book here. I have some key basic disagreements with Thompson, but he makes excellent points on goal of pastoral ministry as found in Paul’s’ letters (at least in the letters he is willing to ascribe to Paul).

Thompson does a good job of showing that Paul is not simply concerned to get professions of faith from large numbers of individuals. Paul is concerned to establish churches composed of healthy, godly members living in proper relation to one another. Paul’s vision is much more holistic than what we often witness today. Paul is clear that the success of his ministry will only fully be known on the final day. Thus he labors in view of eternity and not simply with a bag of quick fixes which may attract attention from denominational papers but will fade long before judgment.

Here are a few quotes:

His initial evangelistic work is therefore only the beginning of a process that will not be complete until the end of time. His work will be successful only if his congregations live out the consequences of the gospel through transformed lives and are fully transformed at the coming of Christ. Thus all theology is pastoral for Paul. – 24

Paul’s work is not only to evangelize but to participate in the transformation of the community. – 91

In the fourth place, Paul’s pastoral theology is ecclesiocentric and eschatological. Ministry is not done in isolation, and the goal of the pastor is not only the well-being of the individual. The goal of ministry is to ensure that individuals discover the resources for transformation within the community and that corporate well-being is the goal of the pastor. … The church has seen a glimpse of the end of the narrative, when it will be transformed into the image of the Son. To be engaged in ministry is to work with God toward this goal. – 118

The ultimate test for the effectiveness of our ministry cannot be measured by the standards of our culture or our peers but by whether our work survives the test. – 156

To build a church on the basis of the satisfaction of consumer tastes is to retreat to the self-centeredness of the old aeon. – 157

The worship service is not intended to appeal to individual consumer tastes but to build a lasting community. – 161
I encourage pastors to get this book and read it. There are parts to disagree with, but there is much to heed as well.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Real Lesson of the Da Vinci Code

I found this post still in draft form from last June. The point still holds, so I decided to go ahead and publish it.

There has of course been much talk about the Da Vinci Code- errors, distortions, how to respond, etc. However, I have not seen enough about what I think is the real lesson for the Church in the whole thing. Anyone with a decent awareness of the bible and history can see the distortions, oversimplifications, etc. In dealing with sources Dan Brown would receive a poor grade in an undergraduate class. The real question then is this: “Why then are so many church members caught up, confused and even convinced by the claims of this book?” Why do I regularly hear of people in churches who are swayed by the book?

A recent U.S. News story touched on this just briefly. At the close of the story a Catholic priest who was interviewed for the story said, "We've been given an opportunity to teach our people what we probably should have been doing a better job of teaching them all along," Indeed! This is the point. The only way such a book could gather such a following is for people to be uninformed of the Bible. In one way this book and movie can be a gift to the church to re-awaken us to the importance of teaching in the church. While pastors have pursued programs and entertainment to draw larger crowds we have largely abdicated our God-given responsibility to teach our people. The Great Commission requires us ‘teach them to obey all that I have commanded you’. We will not have done any good if we draw large crowds only to see them pulled away by false teaching. If we will have long term health and true growth, we, the pastors, must hold fast to the task of teaching our people.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

1 Thess 5:12-13 on Pastoral Ministry

This passage is an important one for understanding pastoral ministry biblically. It is addressed to the congregation and calls for them to respect and ‘esteem highly in love’ their pastors. These pastors in turn are expected to do three things:

- labor among them- work hard in their midst
- to ‘be over them in the Lord’- the idea here is to exercise authority over the flock, to lead them appropriately
- to admonish, or teach them
The idea of authority is sometimes difficult to understand in our setting. It is not to be domineering (1 Pet 5:3), but it is to involve authority (cf. Heb 13:17). Much could be said here, be let me provide a paragraph from a great commentary on this passage:

One of the reasons for this predicament is that we too often view church leaders as CEOs of the church “corporation,” whose purpose is to meet our needs. If the church does not meet our needs in the way we think it should, we find another “church store” to attend. Another reason for this situation is that the American church has been so permeated with democracy and individualism that these two great American ideals have been taken to an extreme. Too often churches proclaim that their goal is that every believer become a “minister.” The implication is that every believer is to be equal with every other believer and that, ideally, there should be no one in an authoritative position over anyone else. Of course, it is true that everyone in the church is equal in the sense of being in the image of God. Accordingly, all should grow in their recognition and exercise of the diverse gifts that they have received from God. But Christians are not equal in the sense that they have functional equality in the church. Rather, they have different gifts that entail different kinds of functions. Leadership is among these gifts (Eph 4:11).
We need to be instructed about the important role leaders play in the church and how others who have not been called to be leaders should look upon those in authority over them. (158-159)

Beale, G.K. 1-2 Thessalonians The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003

Monday, June 11, 2007

A. Alexander on the Lord’s Supper

Archibald Alexander (1772-1851) was the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary and one a key figure in early American theology. I am currently working on a review of a reprint of his A Brief Compendium of Bible Truth, which was designed to be a brief treatment of Christian doctrine for laypeople. This weekend I read his treatment of the Lord’s Supper and really appreciated it. The following quotes fit well with the argument I put forward here renewal of our practice.

“As the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of the death of Christ, it should be celebrated often, so that this great sacrifice on which our salvation depends may not be forgotten, but kept in lively remembrance in the Christian church.

The value of the Lord’s Supper is incalculable. It is admirably adapted to our nature. It is simple, its meaning is easily apprehended by the weakest minds. It is strongly significant and impressive. It has been called an epitome of the whole gospel, as the central truths of the system, in which all the rest are implied, are here clearly exhibited. And it ever has been signally blessed to the spiritual edification and comfort of the children of God. They, therefore, who neglect this ordinance, do at the same time disobey a positive command of Christ and deprive themselves of one of the richest privileges which can be enjoyed on this side of heaven.”
A Brief Compendium of Bible Truth(1846; reprint 2005, Reformation Heritage Books), p. 188-89.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Carson’s Review of Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God

As I am catching up on some projects and reading, I just read Don Carson’s 10 page review of N. T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God. I recommend the review to you. It is good reading for pastors. Dealing with the reality of suffering and evil in the world is a perennial pastoral task (I would recommend Carson’s own book How Long O Lord on this). Carson summarizes the book chapter by chapter noting strengths. Then he turns to critique. The critiques get to the heart of many troublesome issues arising today.

For example Carson challenges Wright’s portrayal of God as “having” to work in certain ways to ‘fix’ the world, and the emerging overly psychologized picture of God needing to “release himself from the burden of always having to be angry with a world gone wrong” (Wright’s words). Carson also challenges the regular description of God’s plan as “daring and risky” involving “so much ambiguity.”

There is much here- more than I can summarize now- so I encourage you to print off the review and take time to read it. It is helpful discussion for keeping our thinking rooted biblically in an age of increasing theological confusion.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Dorothy Sayers on Doctrine

Kairos Journal has posted several quotes from Dorothy Sayers on the importance and value of doctrine. Her words are as pertinent and valuable today as they were 60 or so years ago. Here are a couple of the quotes:

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.

. . . . for the cry today is: “Away with the tedious complexities of dogma—let us have the simple spirit of worship; just worship, no matter of what!” The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.
Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: W. Publishing Group, 2004), 1, 15.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

My Dad's Stroke

It has been a while since I have posted so I thought I should just give folks an update on things. We had a great vacation, but on the way back I got word that my Dad had had a stroke. Eventually we found out it was a major stroke in the brain stem. However, he has made great progress. He was working on making his left arm work before the physical therapist got there to encourage him to do just that. His spirit has been great! His speech has improved greatly, and before leaving the hospital he walked down the hall and back with assistance. This week he moved from the hospital to the rehab facility.
I have been encouraged just watching my Dad’s spirit and perseverance.