Thursday, August 30, 2007

Spurgeon and the Centrality of Preaching

Here is a great quote from Spurgeon on the importance of preaching from Kairos Journal.

The pulpit has become dishonored; it is esteemed as being of very little worth and of no esteem. Ah! we must always maintain the dignity of the pulpit. I hold that it is the Thermopylae of Christendom; it is here that the battle must be fought between right and wrong; not so much with the pen, valuable as that is as an assistant, as with the living voice of earnest men, “contending earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints.”

For more on this excerpt see here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hercules Collins book

There have been several announcements in the blogosphere about the new book on Hercules Collins edited by Steve Weaver and Michael Haykin. I am now a little over half way through reading the book, and it is really good. The book begins with a brief biographical sketch and the rest of the book is excerpts from his writings. This is a great way to introduce writers from the past who have been largely forgotten. I am not sure I would commit time to starting a lengthy book by someone I don’t know, but it is easy to take up a little book like this. Then, once I discover in these excerpts gems of real spiritual insight and pastoral warmth I am very interested in reading more. This also has made me very interested in the series in general.

One thing I have most appreciated in the book is Collins’ comments on contentment. I find contentment to be one of the most significant issues I deal with in shepherding the flock. Singles find it hard to be content without marriage. Couples who do not yet have children find contentment difficult without children. Those with young children struggle to be content with the labor and limitations that a young family brings. Those who are older may find it difficult to be content with limitations of age. Collins speaks well to this issue, and as one who was persecuted and imprisoned for the faith he speaks with authority. He exhorts us to trust God, to remember that God knows our situation and to see that endurance under trials proves the reality of our faith to a watching world.

“For, as a tree is known by his fruit, so is a Christian by a patient wearing [of] Christ’s cross. This will and hath convinced an adversary, when a bare profession will not. And though a man should make a great profession, or preach with great demonstration of truth, . . . an unsuitable living, or a sinful declining [of] sufferings, may greatly hinder the belief of the truth.” 36

“How much of the presence of Christ have they had to enable them to bear the cross quietly, patiently, contentedly, not like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. And some cannot boast of raptures and ecstasies, yet they have cause to bless God for making good that promise to them, John 16:33, that as in the world they have tribulation, so in Christ peace.” 51

“Thinking people will conclude they must needs be the Lord’s that suffer patiently under such apparent wrong.” 54

“We can never know God as we ought without temptations. … In this school of affliction it is that the soul is taught to suck sweetness out of the Word of God.” 75
This is a great little book, one to read yourself and to pass on to church members.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Preaching Christ from Genesis

Sidney Greidanus. Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007. Pb., 518 pp.

Here is another great new book on preaching from the Old Testament Greidanus, long an advocate for proclaiming Christ from all of Scripture, has written this big book to demonstrate this in Genesis. I appreciate that his goal is sermons, not academic papers. There is nothing wrong with academic papers, but they are not nearly as important as sermons.

Here is one quote. Tomorrow I will plan to post another.

“As Genesis sketches the beginnings of redemptive history, it teaches about God’s coming kingdom, God’s love for his creation and his creatures, God’s judgment of sin, God’s grace for sinners, God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s sovereign providence, and God’s presence with his people. As Ken Mathews puts it ‘If we possessed a Bible without Genesis, we would have a ‘house of cards’ without foundation or mortar. We cannot insure the continuing fruit of our spiritual heritage if we do not give place to its roots.’ The church today needs to get in touch with its roots. After TV, videos, DVDs, pop music, and magazines have bombarded God’s people for a whole week with a worldview that excludes God, God’s people need a ‘reality check’ on Sunday, that is, sermons that expound the biblical worldview. God’s people need to hear more sermons from the book of Genesis.” (p. 7-8)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Carson on Keeping the Gospel Central

Here is a lengthy quote once more from Carson’s Basics for Believers. It is long, but I think this is a good word for us today when many issues are crying out for our attention. This no doubt speaks to many situations, but I confess I am thinking primarily of my own denomination, the SBC. Far too long we have assumed people ‘get’ the gospel, and we may be tempted therefore to spend the bulk of our time on denominational distinctives, cultural engagement, etc. We must not make the error of assuming the first things. Let us be gospel-people first.

“In a fair bit of Western evangelicalism, there is a worrying tendency to focus of the periphery. I have a colleague in the Missions Department at Trinity whose analysis of his own heritage is very helpful. Dr. Paul Hiebert labored for years in India before returning to the United States to teach. He springs from Mennonite stock and analyzes his heritage in a fashion that he himself would acknowledge is something of a simplistic caricature, but a useful one nonetheless. One generation of Mennonites believed the gospel and held as well that there were certain social, economic, and political entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel, but identified with the entailments. The following generation denied the gospel; the ‘entailments’ became everything. Assuming this sort of scheme for evangelicalism, one suspects that large swaths of the movement are lodged in the second step, with
some drifting toward the third.

What we must ask one another is this: What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? What consumes your time? What turns you on? Today there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and much more. The list varies from country to country, but not few countries have a full agenda of urgent, peripheral demands. Not for a moment am I suggesting we should not thin about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?”
Carson next acknowledges the great cultural work of people like Newton and Wilberforce and others.
“But virtually without exception these men and women put the gospel first. They were gospel people. They reveled in it, preached it, cherished Bible reading and exposition that was Christ-centered and gospel centered, and from that base moved out into the broader social agendas. In short, they put the gospel first, not least in their own aspirations. Not to see this priority means we are not more than a generation away from denying the gospel.” (26-27)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Three Dollars Worth of Gospel

I always recommend to pastors that they purchase all of Don Carson’s little paperback expositions because I think they are some of the best expositional material available. They are models of exegesis, application, and preaching in general.

I just came back across this following quote from Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians . This is piercing application. I am cut to the quick. I know the approach to life he is satirizing not simply by looking out at others but by looking within. I need to hear this word again. And, how we need this word in our churches! All too easily we warp the gospel into a way for securing the ‘good life’ for ourselves.
“I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much – just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races – especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family
secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of the gospel, please.” (pp. 12-13)

Brothers, we must preach this searching point. Many will be entirely content for us to “do our sermon”, but when you begin to press the call of the gospel to shape our lives, rebuke our sin, calling for repentance many will rebel. But without this we have failed to discharge our ministries (Col 4:17). Without this we are mere hirelings awaiting rebuke from the Master on the final day. There is no discount version of the Gospel. It is all or nothing. Let us wield the searching sword of the Spirit (Heb 4:12) as those who have first been pierced by it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Majesty of God in the Old Testament

I am currently working on Preaching Magazine’s annual Bible and Bible reference survey article for early Fall, so it is likely that you will find several book notes here in the coming weeks.

Perhaps the main impression I have received so far in seeking to survey all the Bible reference material that has come out since last fall is that there has been a boom in really good material for preaching the Old Testament. I previously commented on Christopher Wright’s book on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. I will mention briefly in the next several days other really good, new books on this topic.

Here, I’ll mention Walter Kaiser’s The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching (Baker). This is a great book for preachers, providing a homiletics refresher as veteran bible scholar and preacher Kaiser walks through the study and preaching of 10 Old Testament texts. Beyond simply giving help for these 10 passages, Kaiser models the preaching of the OT with a concentration on the character of God. He is particularly concerned with the need for us to be teaching our people about the greatness of God. Here are two quotes:

“One of the greatest enhancements that could come to most evangelical teaching and preaching- indeed, the best among the people of God worldwide- is a whole new appreciation for the majesty and greatness of our God as presented in the Scriptures. Unfortunately, one of the best sources for this teaching- the Old Testament- is all too often neglected in our teaching and preaching.” (p. 9)

“Alas, however, much of our teaching and preaching suffers from a mediocre view of God’s majesty. We are too much like those chided in Psalm 50:21 [in which God says, ‘You thought I was altogether like you.’]” (p. 10).

The church will benefit greatly if this sort of admonition is heeded and more preaching reflects the glory of god rather than our own navel gazing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jerome on Reading and Learning

Brian Denker sent me this quote from Jerome recently. It is a good exhortation to earnest study, and perhaps especially relevant as start of term approaches here.

“Read often, learn all you can. Let sleep overcome you, the roll still in your hands; when your head falls, let it be on the sacred page.”
- St. Jerome c.340-420 AD

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Lord's Day Poem

I recently returned to this hymn and discovered (thanks to cyberhymnal!) that it has more verses than I knew. This is a great poem from 9 centuries ago. It is a wonderful aid in meditation and prompts me to wonder, appreciation and worship, stirring and training my affections. This makes it particularly helpful for Saturday night for me, in preparation for the morning. May it be a blessing to you as well.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
O Savior of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.

Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize will be;
Jesus be Thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

O Jesus, King most wonderful
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou sweetness most ineffable
In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, light of all below,
Thou fount of living fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire.

Jesus, may all confess Thy Name,
Thy wondrous love adore,
And, seeking Thee, themselves inflame
To seek Thee more and more.

Thee, Jesus, may our voices bless,
Thee may we love alone,
And ever in our lives express
The image of Thine own.

O Jesus, Thou the beauty art
Of angel worlds above;
Thy Name is music to the heart,
Inflaming it with love.

Celestial Sweetness unalloyed,
Who eat Thee hunger still;
Who drink of Thee still feel a void
Which only Thou canst fill.

O most sweet Jesus, hear the sighs
Which unto Thee we send;
To Thee our inmost spirit cries;
To Thee our prayers ascend.

Abide with us, and let Thy light
Shine, Lord, on every heart;
Dispel the darkness of our night;
And joy to all impart.

Jesus, our love and joy to Thee,
The virgin’s holy Son,
All might and praise and glory be,
While endless ages run.

Words: Ber­nard of Clair­vaux, 12th Cen­tu­ry (Je­su dul­cis me­mor­ia); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by Ed­ward Cas­wall, Lyra Ca­thol­i­ca, 1849.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Virtue of Grieving in The Last Battle

In the church we often are unsure of how to handle grief. To grieve- whether the death of a loved one or the loss of a job or dream- is sometimes thought to demonstrate a lack of faith or an unwillingness to submit to God’s ways. If God is good and He has allowed this, then why do you want something different? Do you not believe that God’s ways are best? If you are grieving a death, do you not believe in the resurrection?

Of course our grief can involve rebellion against God, fostering anger at God for not doing as we willed. And our grief can be connected to a failure to trust that God is good and His ways are best. However, not all grief is so tainted. There is a rightness to grief, and those who would eliminate it all together fail to embrace our humanity and to face squarely that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Jesus wept and groaned inwardly at the results of sin (John 11:33, 35-36, 38).

This is nicely pictured in The Last Battleas Narnia is finally destroyed. Having seen the final destruction of Narnia and then being called further into a beautiful new land, Peter is surprised to find that Lucy is crying. He says, “What, Lucy! You’re not crying? With Aslan ahead, and all of us here?” Lucy, who always “gets it” more than the others, replies, “Don’t try to stop me, Peter. I am sure Aslan would not. I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia. Think of all that lies dead and frozen behind that door.” Eventually Tirian weighs in saying, “The ladies do well to weep. See I do so myself. I have seen my mother’s death. … It were no virtue, but great discourtesy, if we did not mourn.”

Here is significant pastoral wisdom. Scripture tells us not to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). It does not forbid grieving but instructs us on the manner of our grieving. Not to grieve over the death of a loved one would be inhuman and unnatural. It would be “a great discourtesy.” To stand beside a friend, a church member, who has just seen some cherished dream slip away and fail to share in his grief is indeed “a great discourtesy.” Such stoicism does not communicate so much faith as it does lack of care. After Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus, the crowd says, “See how He loved him” (John 11:35-36).

Scripture tells us to mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15). We are to share in the grief of others and honestly face our own, not to hide behind platitudes. In fact the glorious promises of the gospel tend to be seen most magnificently through the veil of tears. So in the face of loss or grief, mourn and cling to the blessed hope.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Perseverance in The Last Battle

King Tirian and Jewel the unicorn are good examples of perseverance (as well as friendship) in a number of ways. What particularly grabs me is a phrase which I believe shows up elsewhere in the series (I think on the lips of Reepicheep in Dawn Treader). When their backs are against the wall, all looks hopeless and their deaths seem certain, Jewel says, “Sire … There is now no need of counsel. … Nothing now remains for us seven but to … proclaim the truth, and take the adventure Aslan sends us.” Out of context this line may not seem very impressive. However, in its context it is a compelling approach to obedience in the face of overwhelming odds. At this point in the story they have done all they can to resist the enemy and yet the enemy has cut off all their hopes of reinforcement. Their duty is clear- fight the enemies who have invaded their land, enslaved their people and deceived their people with lies about Aslan. However, it would appear equally clear that their possibility of success is almost zero. What shall they do? Shall they barter their honor for their lives? Shall they abandon the ways of Aslan and make peace with his enemies since they have no way of winning? These same questions approach us in life and ministry. And many- so many- counsel obedience only when success seems probable. Otherwise they suggest compromise. Oh, how we need the example of courageous obedience that says simply, “Let us go forth in obedience and see what adventure the Lord has ordained for us. Whether we live or die we serve the Lord” (for a biblical example see Daniel 3, esp. vv. 16-18).

Do we truly believe God is sovereign? Do we owe Him obedience at all times, or did He fail to consider this particular incident? Is this all about us, our survival and success even though we drape it in language about God’s glory? Or will we see that our task is to obey and simply see what happens? God is working his purposes out and we do not know what our part will be. Our part may be to see the work of God prosper in our hands. Or our part may be to go down in noble defeat. Our own particular outcome is not to be our great concern. We are simply to be faithful and trust God to use it. I do not need to be a mastermind; I just need to mind the Master.

So when our duty is clear (e.g., discipline for an unrepentant but influential member, standing on biblical principles though it incur the wrath of friends, members, or denomination, etc.), then let us remember the noble unicorn of Narnia and like him step out in obedience, “proclaim the truth, and take the adventure Aslan sends us.” Better a noble death than ignoble survival. And who knows how many great victories are simply awaiting those with enough courage to go forth in simple obedience.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reflections on the Last Battle

I was able to be home last week with my family, so I did more riding around with my boys. As we have ridden this last week we have listened to the the audio of C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle. Patrick Stewart does the reading and does a great job.

I have read/listened to this book numerous times and still find it fresh, fun and stimulating. Listening again I was reminded of my post from a few weeks ago on preaching with imagination. In the comments I was asked for examples of such preaching. I have heard such preaching but was not prepared with some good, easily accessible examples. C. S. Lewis is a great example of good imaginative communication (though it is not preaching). In the Narnia series he powerfully communicates truths in fresh ways. I plan to take a few posts to reflect on some examples from The Last Battle.

As one preliminary note, let me acknowledge that The Last Battle does contain the most significant theological error in the Narnia series: a worshipper of the false god Tash is invited into heaven and is told he was really worshipping Aslan all along even though he did not know it. It is clear what Lewis is suggesting, and I will be as clear in saying Lewis missed it here. Mature reading requires the sifting of wheat and husk, and the presence of some husk does not negate the presence of some really good wheat as well.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Pastoral Love Exemplified

Last Sunday was a significant day in the life of our church. Last year the church voted to give Lee Tankersley, one of our pastors, a 2 year sabbatical to complete coursework for a PhD. This past Sunday was Lee’s last Sunday before beginning that sabbatical. He and his family will be back with us in between terms, but the sending off of one who has done the bulk of the preaching for the last 8 years is a big deal.

Even though Lee will just be away for a time, I was reminded of a statement I heard from a layman I had had heard in a seminary chapel years ago. He told us, “Any church you can leave with out tears is a sterile place where your heart failed to find a home.” Its goes both ways- for a pastor and the church. This is not a corporation simply changing employees. This is a family, in which dearly loved members are moving away for a time.

This was a powerful day in the life of our church, illustrating once more how much we are bound together. One of our members has reflected on this here.

Lee’s farewell sermon is a great example of a pastor’s love for his people. This is what a pastor should be able to say to his people. As we see the beginnings of a renewal of substantive teaching in the church, we must remember that pastors shifting from CEO’s to simply the ‘professional teacher’ is not enough. We need men who teach the depth of Scripture because they love their people and want them to know God. Lee is such a man and his labors have been greatly blessed in our midst.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Caring for Pastors’ Wives

Here is a great post on the great amount of work pastors’ wives do and suggestions on how church members can aid them. This guy knows what he talking about! A number of people in our church have done several of the things listed here for my wife and it has been a great blessing.

This is a good one to pass around.

(HT: JT)