Thursday, January 29, 2009

Romans 3, Student Responses

One of the joys of my job is just walking through the Bible with students in OT and NT Survey. Students often realize they don’t know as much Bible as they thought. And we get to encounter the gospel again and again in its fullness, power and beauty.
Here are some student responses to studying Romans 3 this January. My aim is that these will encourage us in just continuing to preach the Word.

“This makes me think how great God is to save sinners like me who do not deserve anything. I do think love and justice go together, but they get mixed up sometimes. It is interesting to think about how God is not required to forgive anyone, but He does out of great love. I think a lot of times Christians don’t say enough about sin because we try to sugarcoat everything and compare ourselves to others.”

“The words of Paul are such a comfort! If I had listened to this sermon two years ago it would have turned my world upside down. For so long (and still in many churches today) sin was not the thing being taught but hell. It was the fear of hell that I was continually taught instead of the reason I deserved it. This is one of the reasons I struggled so much with my faith. When only hell is taught you lose so much of God’s glory and replace it will feelings of anger towards God and confusion. I understand all too well Luther’s feeling of anger at a God who would punish me for sins I was bound by.

The statement ‘God is not required to forgive anyone’ rings in my ear all the louder every time I hear it. It is hard but so very lovely to think about when you understand how he forgave us when he was never required to. How much this should make us fall to our knees in humility and thankfulness! I never understood the true gravity of what my sin deserved. You are very right, we down play sin so much in our churches today and have dangerously entered into a worldly view of ourselves. It is one thing to tell someone that they should accept a savior that gave his life for them, yet you receive a much different reaction to ‘you are wretched and deserve hell because there is no hope to become good, however God sent Christ to take your punishment, not because he had to but because he chose to. This is the truth missing today and how much more would we appreciate the gospel if it was taught fully! This has been so encouraging and I continue to fall in love with my savior all the more as I learn more and more about the gift I have received.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Emptiness of Sin

“All the ‘great secrets’ under the mountains had turned out to be just empty night: there was nothing more to find out, nothing worth doing, only nasty furtive eating and resentful remembering. He was altogether wretched. He hated the dark, and he hated light more: he hated everything, and the Ring most of all.”
(The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 2)

This description of Gollum’s condition is a compelling description of the emptiness of sin. Doesn’t this resonate, in a terrible way, in your own soul? This is a helpful picture for me to keep in my mind to fight temptation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Preaching and the Public Square

Many of you have probably already seen this video of John Piper responding to President Obama on abortion. I saw it on several blogs.

My point here is to point out that this is a powerful example of how preachers can engage the public square. It is clear in this video that Piper is not arguing for a certain political party. He is engaging a moral issue and makes that very clear. He boldly confronts sin, calling it by name. He adresses the president directly. At the same time, he stresses his willingness to support the president, his prayers for him, and even where he has rejoiced in him.
I felt echoes of Chrysostom, Knox and the Covenanters as I listened.

Friendship (Tolkien)

“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin- to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours- closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway, there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid- but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.’
(The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 5)

What a wonderful portrait of true friendship. This should be the sort of thing heard often in the church.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Exodus Study This Weekend

I am preparing this week to do the January Bible Study on Exodus this weekend at Poplar Heights Baptist Church here in Jackson. I will have about three hours Friday night, three Saturday morning, and then the two Sunday services. There is much to cover to summarize this important book well. I have been struck by the richness of Exodus as I have listened to it over the last few weeks.
Desmond Alexander’s summary of the book states well what I hope to communicate:
“Exodus is essentially a book about knowing God through personal experience. The plot centres on the relationship which develops between the LORD God and the Israelites, from the dramatic meeting with Moses at the burning bush (3:1-4:17) to the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle (40:34-38). Throughout the Exodus God always takes the initiative, revealing himself not only through words, but also through sings and wonders. In differing ways he reveals his most significant attributes: his sovereign majesty; his holiness; his power to perform signs and wonders; his awesome glory; his righteousness; his compassion.”
(From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch, 2d ed, p. 157)

Monday, January 19, 2009

New Church Building in Kenya

My friend Phil Eyster has just returned from Kenya today. I posted a few days ago about part of his work there. In the photo gallery from his trip I noticed this photo of the first church building for a new church plant there.

It is good for us to be aware of the work of our brothers and sisters around the world for various reasons. It may remind us to keep focused on what really matters and not worry so much about our comforts.

If you are on Facebook you can keep up with the work of EPI here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tolkien Thoughts

My older boys are beginning to read The Lord of the Rings for school so I am going to read along with them. Yes, it is true. I confess. I have never before read The Lord of the Rings. This could be held up to doubt the reality of my conversion, of course, but I am out to rectify this. :)

Reading the introductory matter has reminded me of the value for pastors of reading good literature (and value for others of course).

In this first quote Tolkien is making clear that World War II is not the backdrop for his trilogy in spite of the many who thought so. This misunderstanding is a good warning to us not to rest too firmly on supposed reconstructions of the background of biblical texts. A reconstruction might seem entirely plausible (such as Tolkien having WWII in mind in these books) but still be wholly wrong. C. S. Lewis makes the same point powerfully in his essay “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”. Tolkien writes:
“An author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience, but the way in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and ambiguous. It is also false, though naturally attractive, when the lives of an author and critic have overlapped, to suppose that the movements of thought or the events of time common to both were necessarily the most powerful influences.” (xxvi)

We must think through possible reconstructions and possibilities, but, when it comes to preaching and applying the Bible to people’s lives, we are engaged in too serious a business to rest on such guesses. We must stand on what is clear in the text.

Then, in this quote Tolkien is describing the setting of the Hobbits.
“… and there in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living, and they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved, until they came to think that peace and plenty were the rule in Middle-earth and the right of all sensible folk. They forgot or ignored what little they had ever known of the Guardians, and of the labours of those that made possible the long peace of the Shire. They were, in fact, sheltered, but they had ceased to remember it.” (6-7)
Reading this I can’t help but think of my own social setting where it is so easy to think that “peace and plenty” are “the right of all sensible folk” and where it is easy to forget all that has gone before to create the peaceful and prosperous society I know. Though Tolkien was not aiming at us, we do well to remember we are not “owed” peace and prosperity.

(Quotes taken from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Home Pastor Retires

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7)

This past Sunday, Bro. Ray Newcomb, pastor of First Baptist Church in Millington, TN for 33 years, announced his retirement. Here is the video:

My family moved to FBC Millington when I was in the sixth grade. I was a member there until I moved away for college, and my parents are still there. Bro. Ray baptized me and under his ministry I was called to preach.

I was privileged to grow up under Bro. Ray’s ministry where the absolute truthfulness of Scripture and the importance of evangelism were bedrock truths, emphasized and practiced. As I have gone along in life I have talked with so many people who were in churches where the Bible was undermined, where there was no attempt to preach the Bible, where they were not urged to read and study their Bibles, or where they were not taught to share their faith. This has made me thank God all the more for the many ways He has blessed me through Ray Newcomb and the strong foundation I received. He has continued to be a blessing and encouragement to me along the way.

I pray the Lord’s rich blessings on Bro. Ray in his continued ministry.

See B J Maxwell's more complete observations. I heartily concur with with his comments, and as usual he says it better than I could!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mission in Kenya

My good friend Phil Eyster, of Eagle Projects International, is in Kenya preaching the gospel and providing theological training for local pastors. He has no internet access but with a cell signal he has been able to send out updates. It was amazing to me to receive a note and this photo from him just as he was about to preach the gospel in a poor open air market.
Here is one of his recent updates describing the gospel work in the area- encouraging and convicting!

I preached a message about the gospel being true, powerful, and simple. In Kenya there are some preachers who preach a message designed to make them rich and powerful. Since Pastor Daniel is not one of these preachers, his church is not wealthy or prominent. He proclaims the simple, powerful, true message of Christ and then demonstrates that message by caring for the poorest of the poor. Among other things, he feeds people and rescues street kids; two very difficult jobs.

Following church in Kisii, we drove for 45 minutes along a washboard dirt road lined with tea farms to the little town of Sombogo. Here we found one of the daughter churches meeting in a tin hut. There were 80 people crammed into the structure. Daniel actually spent two weeks on a mission here recently from the 22nd of December to the 4th of January. They held an open-air meeting every night at the crossroads of town and everyday followed up on people in their homes. This is how he spent his Christmas holiday.

Daniel is typical of the kind of person that God has given us to work with around the world - a man of integrity, honesty, diligence, excellence, and dedication. A man whose character was forged from the furnace of trials and God's faithfulness. As a boy he had to defend his mother from his drunken father on a daily basis. He endured teachers who would beat him and send him away from class for not showing up with a notebook and pen. He would work odd jobs to earn a few shillings to purchase school supplies so he could get an education. Finally, as a young man after coming to Christ, he did not operate from a platform of bitterness, but instead was fueled by gratefulness to God for His salvation. Men like this are not easy to find, but when you do you know what a blessing it is to partner with them.

The rest of the day until 7pm was taken up visiting two more churches. I think I lost both kidneys somewhere along one of the dirt roads between churches. These churches were all started as a result of field evangelism. They meet wherever they can. Some meet in dirt-floor huts, and others out in fields under a canvas tarp. But in all cases, they are the only real Bible teaching churches available to the people.

All the updates can be seen at the epi site by clicking on “Kenya Plog.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Psalm 27

I saw this on Ray Ortlund’s blog, and appreciated it so much I had to cite the whole thing here. Good, helpful, powerful truth.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;whom shall I fear? Psalm 27:1

"One of the best ways to dispel doubts and fears is to summon to our aid the very strongest doctrines and highest truths of religion. Weak doctrines will not be a match for powerful temptations.

No confidence is so well placed as confidence in God, no joy is like that which he gives, no deliverances are so manifestly glorious as those he works, life is never so sweet as when felt to be the renewed gift of God.

Courage is both a duty of man and a gift of God. We should sharply reprove ourselves for all disheartening timidity. . . . We must be heroic, or we must perish."

W. S. Plumer, The Psalms, page 359.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Free Study Bible for First 50 Registrants

I have previously mentioned the upcoming Ryan Center Conference featuring Dr. Don Carson. Today the Conference Facebook group sent out the following message:

The first 50 people who sign up for our April 2009 Bible Conference will receive a free copy of Tyndale's New Living Translation Study Bible on CD-ROM!

The disc includes the complete text/features of the study bible plus the complete text of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary volume 11 (Matthew/Mark) and volume 14 (Romans/Galatians).

Also the complete Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary is included.

In addition to all this you will receive a sample hard copy of the Genesis section of the New Living Translation Study Bible as well.This offer, made possible by the generosity of Tyndale Publishers, is actually worth the entire price of admission to the conference!

To register paste this link into your browser:

(Winners will receive these items on the first day of the conference at the registration table.)

Monday, January 05, 2009

Gospel in the Hospital

Since my boys are studying the War Between the States I have read a number of books on the subject this past Fall to supplement our discussions. I came across a book published in 1957 by Broadman Press titled, Chaplains in Gray, written by Charles Pitts. It was a fascinating look at the work of pastors and chaplains in the war.

In one place Pitts quoted at length from A Letter to the Chaplains in the Army by James O. Andrew, a Methodist Episcopal bishop from Georgia. This letter contains much good advice from an aged minister. The following excerpt is a good exhortation for all of us on the importance of ministering in times of sickness and death.

It may be that the circumstances which surround you may offer but few facilities for public preaching, but remember that the pulpit is not the only place where the faithful pastor will preach—in private, by the wayside, in the tent, in the hospitals by the bedside of the sick or wounded soldier; there especially is your place.

Be much with the sick, wounded, and dying—there, while life is ebbing out, when the past is painfully remembered, and the future looms up gloomily before the vision of the dying patriot, when he thinks of home and loved ones there, and feels that his earthly mission is almost ended, then preach Jesus to him, talk to him of the cross and pardon, and of heaven, and kneel beside him, and in the language of pleading, earnest faith, commend his departing spirit to the God who made him, and the exalted Redeemer who died for him, rose again, and ever liveth to intercede for him, and then, when the vital spark is extinct, give him Christian burial. (50-51)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Psalms in the ESVSB

Reading the notes on the Psalms in The ESV Study Bible I was struck by the assumption of the Psalms being sung, both by Israel and the church today. Regularly the introductory note on a specific Psalms includes a comment that “the singing congregation” affirms a certain truth or “When the faithful sing this Psalm ….” Of course they were sung by Israel, have been sung commonly in the history of the church and still are sung by many today. But, this fact seems to be often left out of “studying” the Psalms. I am delighted to see how these notes begin with the thought of how these Psalms are to be used in worship.

May these notes help us regain that perspective, particularly for those of us in traditions that have not commonly sung the Psalms.