Wednesday, July 30, 2008

GGG blog tour

I am pleased today to be hosting the Gum, Geckos & God blog tour here and at The Children’s Hour. I previously listed all the stops Jim Spiegel, the author, would be making on his blog tour.

This is an excellent book that I commend to all my readers, particularly those with children or grandchildren. It is essentially a collection of conversations the author and his wife have had with their children about the faith. Typically then Jim reflects a bit on the topic that was discussed for the reader. I was particularly encouraged by the model of living out Deuteronomy 6, particularly verses 6 & 7:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

This book shows good examples of parents simply paying attention to their children and making the most of opportunities to talk about God. You don’t have to have a theology degree to do this. You simply have to be intentional and engage your kids.

Another key thing I noticed in the book is how often the children themselves raise questions about the faith. When your children ask questions you have the greatest opportunity to teach them because their interest is already piqued. So I asked Jim:

What have you and your wife done to create a setting in your home such that your kids naturally ask about and speak of things concerning God? Of course kids ask questions, but what leads to them so naturally asking about God? God seems to be a natural part of life, and while any Christian parent would hope for this I find many who wonder how this can be accomplished.

Jim answered:

Our kids' readiness to ask questions about God traces back to a number of factors. Some of these are not extraordinary, such as our consistent involvement with our church and our teaching them the Bible. But we are also intentional about pointing out biblical lessons which play out in our daily lives as a family. We constantly come back to the Golden Rule, particularly when the kids are fighting or behaving selfishly with one another. I can't count how many times we've said to them, "Now how would you feel if s/he did that to you?" This is such a powerful question because it forces them to apply the Golden Rule. Although sometimes it feels like this doesn't get through to them, over time the impact is evident.

Also, as is clear in Gum, Geckos, and God, my wife and I constantly draw biblical lessons from nature, whether its observations about insects, gardening, or family pets. We also weave theology into our conversations about popular culture, from Star Wars to baseball. The more we do this, the more naturally kids will do this themselves. Our hope and prayer is that this will develop in them a fully integrated faith, where they consciously apply their Christian worldview to literally everything they experience.

These are all positive things that we do to theologically fertilize our kids' minds. But one significant choice we have made is a particular kind of abstinence: the elimination of TV programs from our home. We do have a television, but it doesn't pick up any channels. So our kids can only watch DVDs and videos which we have screened beforehand, and their time doing this is quite limited. TV is not a default entertainment in our home, nor does it function as an electronic babysitter. Consequently, our children spend more time than most kids reading, doing crafts, and playing outside, so they become more active thinkers. This has the added benefit of preventing them from being exposed to thousands of commercials which are so powerful in conditioning young minds to have a consumer mentality. So for our family, the elimination of TV has been the ultimate case of addition by subtraction. I highly recommend that parents give it a try. Yes, it's difficult (at first), but the benefits are amazing. And not just for the children. Your marriage will benefit as well!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Persecution in Kenya

My Friend Phil Eyster, at the mission organization EPI, has just posted portions of communication he has had with a believer who is working with Muslims in northern Kenya.
Here is a brief excerpt from the note from Kenya:

On Friday 11th July 2008, Moslems invaded our training center in Kenya. The Moslems attacked the team while they are having meeting in preparation for one month August Missions.

The Moslems claimed that the Christians abused their Koran, but we know it was just a plot, since nobody did that. The truth is that the Moslem are furious about the number of the Moslems who were converts to the Lord this year.

In the last two months through the initiatives of our missionaries about 24 Moslems have ACCEPTED THE Lord Jesus Christ in spite of all the persecution. Moslems felt that the best way to stop all these conversions was to burn the Church and kill key leaders and missionaries.

This is a word from the front lines of reaching the unreached and is a sobering reminder of what our brothers and sisters in other areas face. It is also a strong reminder of the blessings we have and our responsibility to stand with our brothers and sisters in some way. As pastors we need to keep this reality in front of us and our congregation.

This is an appropriate follow up to the previous post. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing sometimes comes only through suffering. These brothers and sisters are not simply deciding to “think more positively” about the unevangelized, but are giving their lives so that these people might be evangelized.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Faith Comes by Hearing

Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism, ed. C. Morgan and R. Peterson (IVP; pb., 256 pp.)

I have begun looking over this book and am quite impressed with it. It must be pretty good if D. A. Carson says about it:

For those who are more interested in faithful alignment with what Scripture says than in sentimentality on this extraordinarily challenging subject, this is now the book to read.

Morgan and Peterson (both faithful scholars and committed churchmen) have compiled quite a list of contributors. Here is the table of contents:

1 Introduction by Robert A. Peterson
2 Inclusivisms and Exclusivisms by Christopher W. Morgan
3 General Revelation: Sufficient or Insufficient? by Daniel Strange
4 Exclusivism: Unjust or Just? by William Edgar
5 Other Religions: Saving or Secular? by Eckhard J. Schnabel
6 Holy Pagans: Reality or Myth? by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
7 Saving Faith: Implicit or Explicit? by Stephen J. Wellum
8 Inclusivism versus Exclusivism on Key Biblical Texts by Robert A. Peterson
9 The Gospel for All Nations by Andreas J. Köstenberger
10 God’s Zeal for His World by J. Nelson Jennings
11 Answers to Notable Questions by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson

I have only dipped in various chapters so far, but the summary chapter addressing key common questions is itself a great resource for pastors since we commonly are asked the questions listed here. I close with a quote from this chapter which demonstrates the heart of the book:

The best way to help the unevangelized is not to become more optimistic about their eternal destiny apart from the gospel. Rather, it is to allow our understanding of God and his Word to generate a greater burden for the unevangelized and to pray, give and go to make sure that they hear the gospel.


Chaucer's Pastor

This is long but well worth reading to note what was considered to be a good pastor in Chaucer’s day. Note that this man is not merely a speaker but a shepherd visiting all of his flock. Note also the point about not always travelling elsewhere to “get enrolled” in a “brotherhood.” Rather, “He stayed at home and watched over his fold.” There is much to challenge and edify here as we listen to a pastoral description from days past.

A holy-minded man of good renown
There was, and poor, the Parson to a town,
Yet he was rich in holy thought and work.
He also was a learned man, a clerk,
Who truly knew Christ's gospel and would preach it
Devoutly to parishioners, and teach it.
Benign and wonderfully diligent,
And patient when adversity was sent
(For so he proved in great adversity)
He much disliked extorting tithe or fee
Nay rather he preferred beyond a doubt
Giving to poor parishioners round about
From his own goods and Easter offerings.
He found sufficiency in little things.
Wide was his parish, with houses far asunder,
Yet he neglected not in rain or thunder,
In sickness or in grief, to pay a call
On the remotest whether great or small
Upon his feet, and in his hand a stave.
This noble example to his sheep he gave,
First following the word before he taught it,
And it was from the gospel he had caught it.
This little proverb he would add thereto
That if gold rust, what then will iron do?
For if a priest be foul in whom we trust,
No wonder that a common man should rust;
And shame it is to see -- let priests take stock –
A soiled shepherd and a snowy flock.
The true example that a priest should give
Is one of cleanliness, how the sheep should live.
He did not set his benefice to hire
And leave his sheep encumbered in the mire
Or run to London to earn easy bread
By singing masses for the wealthy dead ,
Or find some brotherhood and get enrolled.
He stayed at home and watched over his fold
So that no wolf should make the sheep miscarry.
He was a shepherd and no mercenary.
Holy and virtuous he was, but then
Never contemptuous of sinful men,
Never disdainful, never too proud for fine,
But was discreet in teaching and benign.
His business was to show a fair behavior
And to draw men thus to Heaven and their Savior,
Unless indeed a man were obstinate;
And such, whether of high or low estate,
He put to sharp rebuke to say the least.
I think there never was a better priest.
He sought no pomp or glory in his dealings,
No scrupulosity had spiced his feelings.
Christ and His Twelve Apostles and their lore
He taught, but followed it himself before.

- Canterbury Tales, The Prologue

Monday, July 21, 2008

Role of the Pastor's Wife

I have commented a number of times already on Kent & Barbara Hughes’ book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. This time, I’ll point out that chapter 16 of that book, “How the Pastor’s Wife Can Help,” is probably the best brief piece I have ever seen on the role of the pastor’s wife. I often am asked for recommended writings on this topic, and this now tops my list. The chapter is written by Mrs. Hughes as she reflects on their years of ministry, particularly the moment when her husband felt crushed and ready to leave the pastorate.

Earlier in the book Kent related the incident fairly early in their marriage and ministry when he broke and finally blurted out to his wife, “God has called me to do something he hasn’t given me the gifts to accomplish. Therefore God is not good.” There in that moment a young wife was confronted with a broken man. Would she freak out, say this is not what she signed up for, flee in fear, or crush him in his moment of weakness? No. Kent’s account is marked with deep appreciation as he writes:

“… I was faltering. But I will never forget her kind and confident response. “I don’t know what you’re going to do. But for right now, for tonight, hang on to my faith. Because I believe. I believe that God is good. I believe that he loves us and is going to work through that experience. So hang on to my faith. I have enough for both of us.” (p. 23)

I get choked up even typing that because I have been the recipient of such love from my wife in a very different but just as debilitating circumstance. How many people have been blessed by the preaching and writing of Kent Hughes? Humanly speaking, he only persevered to become the pastor he was because of this ministry of his wife to him- a labor no one saw but many benefitted from.

Reflecting on this moment Mrs. Hughes writes:

Let me first say what I did not do. I did not attempt to mother Kent or give him pity. Neither did I attempt to come up with a scheme to make the church grow and thus save Kent’s ‘ministry’ and preserve God’s reputation. Certainly I was tender and sympathetic and participated in the problem-solving and creative thinking. But a wife who allows her husband to wallow in self-pity or attempts to take over and solve things more often contributes to her husband’s loss of self-respect, and even effects a subtle emasculation. (170)
There is so much wisdom and good advice here.

In a summary point she also writes:

“Here, above everything else, I discovered that a pastor’s wife is exactly that, a wife. … It startled and refreshed me to realize that Kent needed me as this. He didn’t need me to be his buddy, or his counselor, or even his co-pastor. He needed exactly what God had provided him with- a wife. (168)
The beauty and simplicity of wisdom!

This is a great resource that I recommend passing on to every pastor’s wife to encourage and help her.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Is a Healthy Church Member

What is a Healthy Church Member?
By Thabiti Anyabwile
(Crossway, 2008), hb., 127 pp.

I received my copy of this book last Friday and read it over the weekend. It is excellent! I plan to buy several copies of this book to give away. This book will be immensely helpful to individuals and churches.

Anyabwile takes each of the 9 Marks (from Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, or the latest edition of this book, What is a Healthy Church?) and applies them to church members. He then adds a chapter on prayer. Whereas Dever’s book addressed what the church as a whole should look like, this book asks how individual members can pursue these goals? This is then an excellent complement to the Dever books.

The Chapters are (and you can browse the chapters by following the links):
1. A Healthy Church Member Is an Expositional Listener

2. A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Theologian

3. A Healthy Church Member Is Gospel Saturated

4. A Healthy Church Member Is Genuinely Converted

5. A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Evangelist

6. A Healthy Church Member Is a Committed Member

7. A Healthy Church Member Seeks Discipline

8. A Healthy Church Member Is a Growing Disciple

9. A Healthy Church Member Is a Humble Follower

10. A Healthy Church Member Is a Prayer Warrior

This is another great tool in helping people see where and how we need to change. It is profound but simply and clearly communicated. Give copies to your church members and fellow pastors.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reading the Bible and Praying in Public

Reading the Bible and Praying in Public, by Stuart Olyott
(Banner of Truth, 2008), pb., 22 pp.

This brief little booklet is an excellent tool to help pastors think through how our doctrine should shape these elements of leading public worship. Public reading of scripture has especially fallen on hard times in my circles, and I think this booklet would help many think more carefully about this important practice. Olyott deals with practical issues of reading clearly, not too fast, with the right emphasis, etc. I found this booklet to be encouraging, exciting and refreshing.

These little booklets are accessible (in terms of money and time) and really beneficial.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Church: The Glory and the Shame

Said one demon to another:
“One of our great allies at present is the church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.”
(from C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, cited in Alan Jacobs, The Narnian, 217)
Brothers, surely one of our tasks is to help our people see the church as she is in Christ- ‘terrible as an army’- and to lead that church in living up to what Christ has made her. It is sadly too often the case that the church today is a great ally of the Devil. The point of the labor for the purity of the church is to see this change. The church will either be the greatest hindrance to the advance of the Kingdom or the greatest tool for its advancement. That is one reason why the work of reformation in local assemblies is so valuable.

Every church would do well to ask the question: With what we do and how we conduct ourselves are we an ally of the Devil or an instrument in the hand of the Mighty God?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gum, Geckos, and God

I am happy to be participating in a blog tour by Jim Spiegel promoting his new book Gum, Geckos, and God. Jim teaches philosophy at Taylor University and is the father of four children. This book is a record of various conversations that have come up between him and his children as they have talked about God and the Christian life in informal settings. You can see more about the tour at Zondervan’s site.
This is the tour schedule:

July 21- Spunky Homeschool
July 22- Beauty from the Heart
July 23- At a Hen’s Pace
July 24- A Holy Experience
July 25- Family Voice
July 28- Ted Wins
July 29- In a Mirror Dimly
July 30- Oversight of Souls & The Children’s Hour
July 31- Christians in Context
August 1- The A-Team Blog
August 4- Embarking
August 5-

On its day, each blog will post a question about the book and Jim’s answer. Readers can then ask further questions in the comments section. As you can see I will host the tour on my children’s literature site as well.

I am excited about this book and have really enjoyed reading it. I hope you will stop by for the tour and check out the stops at the other blogs as well.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

“Bound for the Promised Land”

I love corporate worship. I realize this more and more as the years go by it seems. In the corporate gathering of the saints as we worship God, I see things more clearly than just about any other time. It is as if the reality of heaven breaks through my clouded vision and those realities I profess at other times are all the more clear. The sin which tempts me so during the week is then exposed as so clearly ugly and despicable. The truth of God’s character shines more brilliantly convicting me, assuring me of grace, strengthening and ennobling me. The reality of heaven is more concrete, sweeter as the truth of my mortality is felt more keenly. And the blessedness of experiencing this worship with my brothers and sisters is felt deeply.

One example of this occurred this past Sunday as we sang “On Jordan’s Stormy Bank I Stand.” I have sung this hymn many times and really appreciate it. However, this time I was struck and overwhelmed by the audacity of the truth we were professing in the chorus,

“I am bound for the promised land.”

What a crazy, amazing, audacious, wonderful claim this is for sinful people like us! It is a declaration not merely a wish. Based on the certainty of the gospel, in faith we make this claim because God has seen fit to redeem us in Christ. So, despite the suffering, frustration, and betrayal we experience, despite our continual failures we can hold fast knowing that for all those who are in Christ, we are indeed bound for the Promised Land!

Our Dog

I am a “dog person.” As I grew up my dad raised beagles, and we had 30 to 40 dogs at a time. I have enjoyed dogs as far back as I can remember. However, our family had not had a dog, yet because I have been waiting until our boys were ready to help care for it. We have enough other things to do!
A few months ago, however, we were adopted by a stray. Eventually it won my heart by demonstrating loyalty to us (another story), so I agreed for us to keep her. My boys named her Ann, after the female in Where the Red Fern Grows. She has really endeared herself to us.
A couple of weeks ago I taught a survey of Hosea for our Sunday School. Of course I stressed the book’s message of how God has so graciously cared for and provided for us, but we often fail to acknowledge God’s care turning to idols instead. The book poignantly calls for us to see our great indebtedness to God’s grace. That night as I went out to feed Ann, she convicted me- as odd as that seems. J Ann came to us malnourished and uncared for. It is apparent that she had been beaten and mistreated. At our home she has been well fed (perhaps too much so- like her owner!), loved, petted on, cared for, etc. Her gratitude and devotion is transparent. More than once she has put herself between one of our family members and perceived danger. As I went to feed her that night I was struck by the fact that she ‘gets’ the message of Hosea better than I do. In return for material care and provision she is undyingly faithful and grateful. I, in contrast, in return for the eternal rescue of my soul on top of all sorts of material care, my gratitude and faithfulness wavers so and is so often lackluster. I was humbled by my dog. May I rise to her level gratitude inspiring devotion and service.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Plodding Along

Doug Wilson has a beneficial post on his approach to getting things done. I found it a good reminder- challenging, refreshing and encouraging. It reminded me of a story I have been told about William Carey (though I have not checked it out). Carey accomplished an amazing amount of work in his missionary labors from Bible translation, to preaching, to founding institutions. When someone asked him how he got it all done, reportedly Carey answered, “I am a plodder.”

I aspire to faithful plodding.

HT- Jim Hamilton