Thursday, July 30, 2009

Concordia Commentary

I try to stay fairly well aware of commentaries and commentary series with my work at the Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and in writing an annual survey of Bible reference works for Preaching Magazine. However, I have recently realized that I had entirely missed a significant series. As part of the work for this fall’s article for Preaching Magazine, I have been perusing Reed Lessing’s volume on Amos in the Concordia Commentary. When I read the series description I was hooked. Here is the description:
Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture is written to enable pastors and teachers of the Word to proclaim the Gospel with greater insight, clarity, and faithfulness to the divine intent of the biblical text. This landmark work will cover all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, interpreting Scripture as a harmonious unity centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Every passage bears witness to the Good News that God has reconciled the world to Himself through our Lord's life, death, and resurrection.

The commentary fully affirms the divine inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture as it emphasizes "that which promotes Christ" in each pericope. Authors are sensitive to the rich treasury of language, imagery, and themes found throughout Scripture, including such dialectics as Law and Gospel, sin and grace, death and new life, folly and wisdom, this fallen world and the new creation in Christ. Careful attention is given to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. Further light is shed on the text from archaeology, history, and extrabiblical literature. Finally, Scripture's message is applied to the ongoing life of the church in terms of ministry, worship, proclamation of the Word, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, confession of the faith—all in joyful anticipation of the life of the world to come.
Close attention to original languages, Christo-centric reading, and an eye toward the life of the church. And that description is so well written! Of course writing a series description and fulfilling it can be two different things, but this Amos volume seems to accomplish the goals.

I have only seen one volume, but this is now certainly a series I will look for.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Carl Trueman on Oversight of Souls

If you are not aware of Carl Trueman’s writings you ought to be. His latest essay in Themelios is a summary of what he says to students wanting to pursue a PhD. Along the way in the argument, though, Trueman makes a key point about the importance of church membership and the personal involvement of pastors in the lives of their members. In this Trueman echoes one of key concerns of this blog and lands on the same conclusion I do regarding church size. Here is the quote:

Second, church involvement brings with it a natural accountability at a very practical level. Here I guess I show my strong preference for smaller churches. I cannot prove from Scripture that a church should never consist of more than three hundred or so people, but I would argue that a church which is so big that the pastor who preaches cannot know every member by name, and something about their daily lives, needs, and struggles, is a church where the pastor cannot easily fulfill the obligations of a biblical shepherd of God’s flock. Put bluntly, I want to be in a church where my absence on Sunday will soon be noticed and where the pastor or elders can draw alongside me and ask the pertinent questions. I want to be in a church where the eldership takes note if my behavior towards my wife or children is sub-par on a Sunday (hinting at much worse in private). I want to be in a church where I pray for the leadership and where they pray for me—not just in a generic sense of being part of the membership, but informed prayer based on real relationships. In other words, I want to be in a church where my pastor is, well, my pastor and not just that guy who is preaching over there in the distance on a Sunday morning. Put yourself in a small, faithful church, and the pastor is more than likely to hold you accountable to the basics of Christian belief and practice.

Carl Trueman- “Minority Report: A Question of Accountability”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Calvin on Trusting the Love of God

In looking through the recently published new English translation of Calvin’s sermons on Luke’s infancy narratives, I came across this quote which connected with my previous posts on trusting the love of God despite our feelings or circumstances. This is another example of pastoral preaching, of which Calvin is a great example. He is known as a great intellect but his sermons show him to also be a true shepherd in tune with the struggles of his flock and the troubles of the soul. May we also be such shepherds.

“The word ‘knowledge’ thus arms us against such devilish errors. When God gives us proof of his fatherly love, he desires us to have full assurance, so that we are not left to murmur to ourselves, ‘I think . . . I assume . . . That’s how it seems to me . . .’ No, this is the judgment each of us must make: ‘God never disappoints those who look to him. So when my trust is firmly fixed on him, he will never let me down.’ In ourselves we are guilty creatures, condemned to perdition. But when God, by his word, calls us to himself, we rise so to speak from death to life, we emerge from hell and draw near to him, knowing that we do not come to him in vain.

Inevitably we will experience doubt and distress. In this world our faith can never be perfect. We must battle with our troubles which, like the waves of the sea, push us this way and that. Are we tempted to distrust God? Are we weak in the faith? Is our trust in God’s word less firm than it should be? We should not lose heart, but instead remember that, whatever happens, God will not fail us. That is what we must do when the devil seeks to unsettle us, when he reminds us of our sins and sorely tries us. We know that we cannot live free of distress. Angry winds will swirl around us. Yet we must always come back to this fixed point: since our Lord has spoken, let us simply accept what he has said, persuaded that he will fulfill all our hopes and much
more besides. His goodness goes far beyond all we can conceive or imagine.” 111-112
(John Calvin. Trans. by Robert White. Songs Of The Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1 & 2. Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Interview with Eric Smith

Eric Smith has posted an interview with me dealing with my journey in the faith and ministry. At the end of the post he also links to interviews with some of my colleagues at Union.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Calvin on Individual Oversight of the Flock

“The office of a true and faithful minister is not only publicly to teach the people over whom he is ordained to pastor, but, so far as may be, to admonish, exhort, rebuke, and console each one in particular.”
- From “Visitation of the Sick”, contained in John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, vol. 2, ed. by Henry Beveridge.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pastoral Reflections from the Farm

A friend who is preparing to serve as a pastor recently sent me some of his reflections on pastoral ministry drawn from his work on his farm. I thought I would pass them on.

As I told you, I have cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, and yes, dogs and cats on our farm. The sheep have taught me so much. It seems that the more time you spend with them the more they trust. They are the most frightened of the farm animals. A beautiful Barbado Blackbelly ram took seven months to be able to pet and even now he will not come to me if others are present. Sheep are without question the dirtiest of the livestock. They have a film over them and they have glands that secrete a waxy substance. Goats are quite beautiful and sleek, very curious, and always the first to greet you to see if you have a treat. A few weeks ago I went down to the pasture to check on all the livestock before Sunday worship and I did so without a feed bucket. The goats greeted me and did not follow for I visibly had nothing for them. I proceeded further and came upon the cows who stared intently but also found no reason to follow. As I approached the sheep and spoke to them they recognized it was me and they stood together and stared like the other livestock but as I begin to walk back to the gate they followed. As we passed the cows they too followed and the goats as well. What an example of the Church, if we follow faithfully, if our shepherds lead faithfully; will not others follow also? Shall we not do all these things for the sake of the elect? Will not the Lord of all the earth do what seems right to him? He is faithful and will not deny himself. Oh, that we endure that others may obtain Christ!

Other items of interest: sheep are prone to intestinal worms and must be medicated much more than goats and cows, the more they are handled the more they trust but after some time of neglect they grow more like but not exactly like the goats and cows in action. Sheep are very easy to herd for the most part especially in comparison to goats. Goats must be led by some trinket which usually is sweet feed in the trough. Goats are fun and lively and run all over the pasture while sheep remain close together. Sheep love to graze especially together while goats love the brush and exotic- whatever around the pasture edges. Sheep when being fed with goats will come to the trough last; they will wait until the goats have hoarded first. A goat mother will leave her little one to feed but a sheep will not and when doing so will not go far. Lambs are tender at birth and more susceptible to death while generally goat kids are hearty. Goats respond to sight while sheep respond more to sound.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ross Guthrie on Baptism of Children

This past Sunday my friend, Ross Guthrie, gave the following homily preceding the baptism of three children at his church. I sought permission to post this here for two main reasons. First, the age at which children should be allowed to be baptized is an issue of significant discussion and debate. While this is not a full scale theological argument for one position here, it is a very pastoral defense of the view my church has settled on as well.

Second, I think this is simply a beautiful example of pastoral address. This is very clearly a shepherd speaking. The blessing and encouragement to the families noted here and the tenderness with the children is compelling. I hope it encourages and blesses you as it did me.

Baptismal Homily by Ross Guthrie
for Emma, Katelyn, and Karrah Jean

For just a moment, observe our candidates for baptism. A nine year old, an eight year old, and a seven year old. Children. Not only children, but children from Christian homes where following Christ is prayed for, is hoped for, is discussed frequently, and is encouraged regularly. So, I’ll ask the questions that are often on people’s minds when they see a child baptized: How can we know the child has real, saving faith? They haven’t been tested seriously by sin and the world. Do they really understand what they’re doing? Don’t they believe just because their parents believe? Is their belief really prompted by a need for Jesus? I obviously believe that these little ones should be baptized, so I’ll make an attempt to defend them from these questions often asked.

How can we know the child has real, saving faith? They haven’t been tested seriously by sin and the world. Frankly, how can I know if anyone has real, saving faith? I can present the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and bodily resurrection from the dead for the forgiveness of sins to a person and they may confess with their mouth that they believe that Jesus is Lord. But I can’t possibly know if they believe inwardly. I can only accept their testimony as an evidence of their inward belief. Accepting their testimony only assuages my own conscience in entering these waters to baptize a person. God alone knows the belief that exists or doesn’t exist within the person.

Well, these little ones haven’t been tested seriously by sin and the world. I recently heard of a congregation that set the age of eighteen as the age that they would baptize someone who had grown up in their congregation. They instructed their young ones and teenagers thoroughly and baptized them into full membership when they were eighteen. They could then begin partaking of the Lord’s Supper with their brothers and sisters in Christ. I shared this with the elders here at Christ Community Church and Walt’s response was, “That’s too late.” We then began, once again, the age debate. What is too young? What is too old? Shouldn’t they have time to prove that their faith is real and that they will withstand sin and the world? Maybe we should wait until someone is eighteen like that congregation. The teenage years are tough. Or maybe we should wait until they are twenty-four, after they’ve experienced some hardship, trouble getting employment, trouble finding a husband or wife, etc. Or maybe we should wait until they're thirty-five to see how they manage the death of a parent, or an announcement of a birth defect in their child, or an addiction that doesn’t seem to let go. Or maybe we should wait until their sixty, seventy, or on their death bed. You see my point.

Do these little ones really understand what they’re doing or do they believe just because their parents believe? Well, did any of us really, really understand what we were doing when we followed Christ? Did the apostles understand that it would cost them their very lives to follow Christ? Did Patrick and Lana really understand all that it would cost them daily to serve their family and the families of their brothers and sisters in Ethiopia? Did Katherine Guthrie really understand when she was ten what it meant to take up her cross daily and die to herself and come follow Jesus? Well, she does now. Do these little ones simply believe because their parents believe? Yes. We all come to Christ through various means. The gospel of Jesus Christ reaches us all in many different ways through the mouths of many different people. Chris and Karen are God’s grace to Connor, Cameron, and Katelyn. Being placed in a Christian family is no guarantee of eternal life, but it should be acknowledged as God’s kindness and mercy, His favor to those whom He saves through Christ-like parents.

That’s a lot of words and human reasoning and at some point I should quote some Scripture. It’s probably where I should have begun. If people were to ask the questions I addressed to Jesus on why should a child be baptized, His tone is simply, “Why shouldn’t they be?” I want to once again remind you of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Is their faith real? These little ones have expressed to their parents that they want to follow Christ. They trust their parents and they trust God through Jesus Christ. This is the kind of faith that Jesus exhorts us to have. My heart for you in this moment is that you will look on these little ones and desire to have faith in Jesus like they have faith in Jesus. You want to help them in every way you can in their life in Christ. That is right and good. But let them help you as well. Let them be your little sisters in Christ who model a faith to you that Jesus commends.

Finally, brothers and sisters, I’ll close with these words of Christ: “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.” Things are all backwards in this world. We are all enamored with professional athletes, movie stars and musicians, those who acquire great wealth and power. In the church, we admire the strong leader of the large church who touches us with his eloquent preaching and latest book. Celebrity-ism and professionalism are unfortunate marks of the church that can hardly be separated from the rest of the world. Therefore, we are more in need than ever of having our minds reworked on what it means to be great in the eyes of God. This morning, in these waters, let our little sisters serve you in reworking your mind. Let them help you think thoughts that are like God’s thoughts. In these waters, everything about greatness in God’s eyes will be made clear. These little ones who seem to be the least among us, in truth, they’re actually the greatest. “For the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.” If you want to be like Christ, be like Emma. If you want to be great in the kingdom of God, be like Katelyn. Let your minds be reworked, renewed, transformed. Your hero shouldn’t be Billy Graham, John Piper, Walton Padelford, Cindy Denker. No, no, no. Model yourself after Karrah. The one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.

My little sisters, bless you for your faith. We bless you for following Christ. Come and be baptized and remind us of when we first believed in Jesus. Come and follow Jesus.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Pastor & Worship

Here is a great quote from Louis F. Benson, The Hymnody of the Christian Church (1927), preface, vi-vii:

“A good Providence has committed to the hands of every pastor, for such use as he can make of them, the three arts that lie nearest the human heart, - speech, poetry and music. The mission of poetry and music no doubt transcends the limits of congregational singing, but nevertheless it proves most spiritually effective in a self-expression by the people themselves in common song. . . .
Hymnody, then, is a spiritual function, and its welfare proceeds from the heart. Nevertheless its congregational expression needs guidance and a thoughtful ordering as much now as at Corinth in the days of St. Paul. Most of all it needs the inspiration which can only be imparted to preoccupied hearts by a pastor who cherishes it as among the best of God’s gifts, and understands it because he has learned the lessons of its chequered history, has measured its resources and traced the different lines of its ministry; and who is resolute to cultivate the spirit of song among his people.”

Note these points:
1) The pastoral value of poetry and music
2) The importance, value and power of congregational singing
3) The need for leadership in guiding the people to properly understand and appreciate the songs so that they might arise freely from the heart. It is true that authentic worship must arise from the heart, but it will not properly flow from “preoccupied hearts” without teaching and nurturing. And that, pastors, is our job.

May we too be “resolute to cultivate the spirit of song” among our people. Appreciation of congregational singing is no mere personal ‘taste.’ It is a spiritual issue, a deep need of our people; and we must lead, teach, and nurture so as to inculcate this value for the good of the souls of our people.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Greek Among Laymen in 18th Century America

I am currently reading and enjoying Kevin J. Hayes’ recent book, The Mind of a Patriot: Patrick Henry and the World of Ideas (Univ. of Virginia Press, 2008). I like Patrick Henry, and there are many fascinating aspects to the book. One aspect just jumped out to me the other day.

In discussing Patrick Henry’s family background Hayes refers to a letter by John Henry, Patrick’s father.
“One of John Henry’s known letters amply illustrates his extensive interest in biblical scholarship. John informed his brother that he had been in contact with two of the most learned men in Virginia, Commissary James Blair and Colonel Richard Bland. Debating the doctrine of eternal punishments, all three had turned to their Greek testaments for support, but none could agree upon the connotations of some Greek terms. John asked his brother’s thoughts on the matter.” (19)
John Henry was a surveyor had held several civil posts. Richard Bland served in various civil and military posts. James Blair was a pastor as was John Henry’s brother to whom the letter was addressed. What is particularly interesting to me, then, is that in a debate about theology these three men, only one of whom was a pastor, “turned to their Greek testaments”! Each of them own a Greek New Testament and apparently have them at hand. Then each of them is familiar enough with the Greek text to carry on a debate. The two laymen are confident enough to engage in debate this leading clergyman who held a Doctor of Divinity and was the founder of the College of William and Mary.

This is another good encouragement to those of us who lead the people of God to know the NT in its original language.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Formative Role of the Psalms

Eric Smith has posted today a great quote from Jack Collins’ notes on the Psalms in the ESV Study Bible and his own contemplation. I agree heartily. We need these inspired songs and prayers to teach us to worship appropriately.

From “The Psalms as Scripture” in the introductory material about the Psalms in the ESV Study Bible:
“Their primary function has already been mentioned: the Psalter is the songbook of the people of God in their gathered worship. These songs cover a wide range of experiences and emotions, and give God’s people the words to express these emotions and to bring these experiences before God. At the same time, the psalms do not simply express emotions: when sung in faith, they actually shape the emotions of the godly. The emotions are therefore not a problem to be solved but are part of the raw material of now-fallen humanity that can be shaped to good and noble ends. The psalms, as songs, act deeply on the emotions, for the good of God’s people. It is not “natural” to trust God in hardship, and yet the Psalms provide a way of doing just that, and enable the singers to trust better as a result of singing them. A person staring at the night sky might not know quite what to do with the mixed fear and wonder he finds in himself, and singing Psalm 8 will enrich his ability to respond.”

The purpose of the psalms, then, is not just to express the way we already feel; it teaches our hearts how they ought to feel, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, shapes our hearts so they do feel as they ought to. This is the purpose behind all Christian worship, which we should keep in mind as we gather together from week to week. Are we purposefully shaping our people into the right kinds of worshipers, and are we ourselves being so shaped? We should have a deeper grasp of our sinfulness and God’s mercy after six months of corporate worship than we did before. We should be more quick to forgive, more patient in suffering, more grateful in abundance, more hopeful for the future in our every day lives as a result of steady participation in corporate worship. May it be so.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies

2 Timothy 2:23 -“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (ESV)

This is an important though oft neglected admonition from the Apostle Paul. It is clear and forceful. There are certain types of controversies which we are to avoid all together. This means there will be certain ‘hot’ conversations on blogs to which we ought devote none of our time. There are certain ‘big’ debates which we ought to ignore entirely.

Of course, Paul is not saying to avoid conflict at any cost. This is the same Paul who opposed Peter to his face, publicly (Gal. 2:11-14). This is the same Paul who wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians which are sustained arguments in the face of conflict. When necessary, Paul was fully willing to wade into conflict. But he is warning here that not all conflict is worthwhile.

It requires wisdom to know which controversies are worth engaging and which are not- sometimes much wisdom! But it is important to begin with the awareness that not all deserve engagement.

Here are some questions we can ask to discern whether or not we ought to involve ourselves in specific controversies:
1) Is the gospel or the souls of men at stake? This was Paul’s motivation in Galatians and the Corinthian correspondence.
2) Is this the sort of wrangling over words “which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Tim 2:14)?
3) Even if this is a worthwhile controversy, is it something I personally need to weigh in on now? Do I have something to contribute helpfully or do I just want to be “in on the conversation”?

UPDATE: I have been asked if in this post I had this or that current controversy in mind. For the record, I had no specific controversy in mind- just how easy it is to be drawn in unnecessarily to arguments that either don't matter or even important arguments to which we can add nothing of value.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

John Newton on Work

In the latest newsletter from the John Newton Project, I appreciated this quote from Newton:
“Through mercy, we and our family are in tolerable health, and peace. I never was better. I preached four times this week, since Sunday, and seem as stout and strong for tomorrow, as if I had not preached at all. Notwithstanding all this, I am near 70 years of age. I am going, going, just a-going. The wheels of time, the carriage which is bearing me to my journey’s end, how swiftly they roll… It is yet day with us, as to this life, that is, our opportunities of adorning our profession, and being useful in our places are still prolonged. But the word speaks to me that am old, and likewise to you that are young - Work while it is day for the night cometh. May our Lord find us so doing – so watching, waiting, hoping for his appearance, that his approach may be a joy and not a surprise to us.”
(From Newton to the Rings of Reading, 3 January 1795)
While there is no value in being hectic, there is much value in steady, faithful labor knowing God has us here for a purpose.

Monday, July 13, 2009

“For Heaven’s Sake, Teach History!”

This is the title of a good recent article at Kairos Journal. The article is a good, brief argument for the value of history generally for Christians and an encouragement for pastors to teach their people about the works of God in history.

I encourage you to read it and to sign up for Kairos Journal (for free!).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Grace Points from Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is a regular reminder to me of the centrality of grace. Two of his recent posts speak directly to the theme of my last two posts (one, two). First, in words I have heard him use elsewhere Ortlund presses the implications of being under grace and not law. He writes:
You are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14
If I am not under grace but under law, then the burning issue in my life moment by moment is, Am I sinning?
If I am not under law but under grace, then the burning issue in my life moment by moment is, Am I forgiven?
Then in another post he cites this powerful excerpt from Luther, who is so helpful on this point. This is good preaching to contemplate and take deeply into our souls:

"God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13), are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins?"

Martin Luther, writing to Philip Melanchthon, 1 August 1521.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Believe the Love of God

Following on from my previous post, here is my recent attempt to proclaim the reality of God’s love for His people from Isaiah 43. I read from and alluded to Isaiah 42:18-43:21, but focused the exposition on 43:1-7 which says:

43:1 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you
4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life
5 Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you.
6 I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

This is a beautiful and amazing text full of gospel promises. I am aware that some OT scholars would be displeased with my handling of the text, but I am unapologetic. I move very quickly from these statements directed to Israel centuries ago to applying them to the people of God today. I know that the return from Exile is in view, but these statements are not confined to that situation. This is the reiteration of the covenant promises of God for the people of God, and they apply directly to the people of God today.

As we wrestle with sin and are subtly tempted to believe that we remain saved by our own worthiness, we need to be reminded that God says to those who are in Christ, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Yes! The God of the universe, who does not need me has chosen in his inestimable mercy to say to me, a sinner, “You are mine!” What beautiful words! What soul enriching words! What freeing words!

And, in spite of what I know about the deceitfulness of my own heart and about my own unworthiness, the Lord of all creation declares, “you are precious in my eyes,and honored, and I love you.” This is what we struggle to believe. It is so good that it seems it cannot be true.

Brothers, let us believe this amazing truth and proclaim it to our people. They are dying to know it- even some who have heard it all their lives.

What a message! What a privilege to proclaim it! What a God!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Proclaim the Forgiveness of Sins

I am increasingly mindful of the struggle Christians have to really believe that God loves them and forgives their sin. Part of our task as pastors in proclaiming the gospel is to remind the people of God that God does truly forgive sin. This is a crucial aspect of the gospel. But for some of our people it will be easy to believe that God hates sin, that God judges sin, and even that God forgives the sins of other people but not that he really & truly forgives their own sin.

Honestly, I am more accustomed to dealing with the error of minimizing God’s holiness and the horribleness of sin. This is a real problem in the church, but we must be wary of the error on both sides of the road here.

Eric Smith has a wonderful recent post on the task of proclaiming forgiveness individually to our people. He uses a great quote from Calvin on the fact that while we reject the Catholic practice of priestly pardon we do still as ministers of Christ, speaking as his heralds, proclaim the pardon of Christ to believers.

Eric then closes with these four searching questions which do truly get to the heart of pastoral ministry.
1) Am I striving to know my people in such a way that I can tell when they are burdened, and when they are rejoicing? Or am I content to prepare my sermons without thought to their needs and shake their hands on their way in and out of church on Sunday mornings?
2) Do I present myself as a knowable pastor, himself conscious of his sin and carried away by mercy? When my people think of someone who is approachable and sympathetic, do they think of me? Or do I come off as high-handed, demanding, and scolding?
3) Do I preach the Gospel beautifully, as the best news any sinner has ever heard, as sufficient to cleanse the deepest stains upon the conscience and heart? I personally find it much easier to preach legalistically about what we should do and not do, than to preach the Gospel of glorious free grace. My default mode is to try and modify our sinful behavior, rather than to exalt a merciful, life-giving Savior.
4) Am I able to personally apply the Gospel to the lives of my people when sitting across the table from them and listening to their stories as Calvin described? Or would I bungle this, able only to talk in generalities before a crowd? Have I thought through the sorts of sicknesses from which my people will suffer that will require tonic of the Gospel?
May we be the sort of faithful shepherds in view here.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Christ's Atoning Wounds

If you do not already read Justin Wainscott’s blog, Theology in Verse, I encourage you to do so. He often posts theologically rich and powerfully emotive poems, some of his own and some from others. Today he posted the following poem which I particularly appreciated. The meter is I believe, so it could be sung to “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “There is a Fountain,” or any other tune in that meter.

Christ's Atoning Wounds
M. Justin Wainscott, © 2009

That sacred stream which ever flows,
Flows from the Savior's wounds,
Does in the souls of saints compose
Sweet, Christ-exalting tunes.

So let the saints in chorus flood
This place with songs of praise;
And sing of Christ's redeeming blood,
And marvel at his grace.

The precious wounds of Christ above -
His hands, his feet, his side -
Stand as a witness to his love
For us, his ransomed bride.

Those wounds which paid our sinful debt
Remove all grounds for pride;
For God's requirements all were met
When Christ our Savior died.

So let us boast in him alone,
And in the wounds he bears;
Since he who sits on heaven's throne
Those sacred scars still wears.

And when before that throne we stand,
And on our Savior gaze;
We'll truly come to understand,
His wounds deserve our praise.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Southern Baptists, Evangelicals and the Future of Denominationalism

This Fall, October 6-9, Union University will host a major conference on the theme, “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals and the Future of Denominationalism.” I referred to this conference in passing previously, but now the conference website is up with details and registration.

The conference is timed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement and intends to examine some of the most vital issues facing Southern Baptists and Evangelicals as we prepare to move into the second decade of the 21st Century.

I have pasted in the schedule below so you can see who is speaking and what their topics are.

My address will focus on the renewal needed in our vision of pastoral ministry- the need to reclaim the centrality of the oversight of souls. I hope to see you here.

Tuesday, October 6

5:00 p.m. Ed Stetzer: Denominationalism: Is There a Future?
6:00 p.m. Dinner
7:00 p.m. Jim Patterson: Reflections on 400 Years of the Baptist Movement: Who We Are. What We Believe.

Wednesday, October 7
Continental Breakfast
8:30 a.m. Harry L. Poe: The Gospel and Its Meaning: Implications for Southern Baptists and Evangelicals
10:00 a.m. Timothy George: Baptists and Their Relations with Other Christians (G. M. Savage Chapel)
Noon Luncheon Address - Duane Litfin: The Future of American Evangelicalism
2:00 p.m. Ray Van Neste: The Oversight of Souls: Pastoral Ministry in Southern Baptist and Evangelical Life
Afternoon and dinner on your own
7:00 p.m. Corporate Worship: Robert Smith, preaching, (G. M. Savage Chapel)

Thursday, October 8
Continental Breakfast
10:00 a.m. Daniel Akin: The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention
Noon Luncheon Address - Michael Lindsay: Denominationalism and the Changing Religious Landscape in North America
2:00 p.m. Jerry Tidwell: Missions and Evangelism: Awakenings and Their Influence on Southern Baptists and Evangelicals
6:00 p.m. Banquet
7:00 p.m. David S. Dockery: Denominationalism and a Global Evangelical Future
8:00 p.m. Mark DeVine: Emergent or Emerging: Questions for Southern Baptists and North American Evangelicals

Friday, October 9
Continental Breakfast
8:30 a.m. Nathan Finn: Southern Baptists and Evangelicals: Passing on the Faith to the Next Generation
10:00 a.m. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.: Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism (G. M. Savage Chapel)

Ministry in Zimbabwe

One of the young men at our church, Mike Evans, is serving as an intern this summer at Central Baptist Church in Harare, Zimbabwe and is chronicling his experience at a blog, “Entrusted With the Gospel.” I am finding his reflections encouraging and challenging so I wanted to pass it along. The following is from a recent report about his labors in pastoral work:
Day by day, the Lord provides me with the graces I need to go on, but I will be honest that I am tired. As I write this, my eyes are filled with tears by the things that I have seen and the pain that I am surrounded by. HIV/AIDS is rampant, and the needs are great, even among our church family here. My eyes are being opened to what it means to oversee the flock, to meet one another's needs (even as I have sat here, a family has come in to give me some money as a gift), to care for widows and orphans and the fatherless, to see each of these to maturity in Christ, to teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, to read the Bible together and to eagerly long for the return of Christ. More and more, my heart is being turned toward the needs of God's people as they cry out for relief, and they gather as a church body to lean on one another, hoping that they will have the faith to persevere tomorrow.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Bond on Calvin Tour

Douglas Bond, whose books my family particularly enjoys, is leading a tour of key places in the life of John Calvin in honor of the 500th anniversary of his birth. Bond is journaling the tour at his blog complete with photos and video. He has recently written a fascinating historical novel on the life of Calvin (The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin) so he knows the history well and is able to point out significant places along the way. For example in this video Bond points out the place where Calvin had to escape, most likely by lowering himself from an apartment window as the authorities closed in on him for his part in the reformation work in Paris. This sort of things makes history come alive.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

A Shepherd’s Prayer

I have mentioned previously here the new church start, Grace Community Church. After their first official meeting as a church, Chad Davis, one of their pastors, sent this prayer to the congregation. I asked permission to post it here as an example of praying Scripture for your people. Scripture (especially Paul’s prayers) provide us great material for praying specifically for our people. I hope this is an encouragement to you as it was to me.

Heavenly Father,

I thank you today for loving this world enough to send your only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life (Jn. 3:16). Thank you for choosing us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). Thank you that, in Christ, we have redemption through his blood (Eph. 1:7). And thank you that, in Christ, we have obtained an inheritance (Eph. 1:11) that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading and is waiting in heaven for us (1 Pet. 1:4).

I thank you as well for the people of Grace Community Church. Thank you for shining into our hearts the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Thank you for delivering us from the domain of darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of your Son (Col.1:13). Thank you for arranging the members of this body as you have chosen (1 Cor. 12:18), for your glory.

I pray for us today that we would have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ so what we would be filled with all of your fullness (Eph. 4:18-19). And as we begin to comprehend that incomprehensible love, I pray that we would walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Eph. 5:2). I pray that we would love one another because we have been loved (1 John 4:11,19). Fill our hearts with the glory and beauty of the gospel and of our Savior so that such joy and love will overflow into our relationships with each other.

Help us to glorify you by exalting Christ through the power of the Spirit today. Amen.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A Minister's Confession

From Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions:

I know that I often do thy work
without thy power,
and sin by my dead, heartless, blind service,
my lack of inward light, love, delight,
my mind, heart, tongue moving
without thy help.
I see sin in my heart in seeking the approbation
of others;
This is my vileness, to make men’s opinion
my rule, whereas
I should see what good I have done,
and give thee glory,
consider what sin I have committed
and mourn for that.
It is my deceit to preach, and pray,
and to stir up others’ spiritual affections
in order to beget commendations,
whereas my rule should be daily
to consider myself more vile than any man
in my own eyes.
But thou dost show thy power by my frailty,
so that the more feeble I am,
the more fit to be used,
for thou dost pitch a tent of grace
in my weakness.
Help me to rejoice in my infirmities
and give thee praise,
to acknowledge my deficiencies before others
and not be discouraged by them,
that they may see thy glory more clearly.
Teach me that I must act by a power supernatural,
whereby I can attempt things above my strength,
and bear evils beyond my strength,
acting for Christ in all,
and have his superior power to help me.
Let me learn of Paul
whose presence was mean,
his weakness great,
his utterance contemptible,
yet thou didst account him faithful and blessed.
Lord, let me lean on thee as he did,
and find my ministry thine.

(posted Thurs at

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Wilson on Authoritative Preaching

Here is another excerpt from Wilson’s A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking. Here he is critiquing our current culture’s view of humility and arrogance.
“We see the same thing in the conflict between biblical and modern theories of preaching. The biblical preacher is a herald, a steward. He has been entrusted to declare something that would have been true if he had never been born. He is to preach it with a strong view of his own ultimate irrelevance. He is to get into the pulpit and say, ‘Thus says the Lord….’ And to the modern world, this is insufferable arrogance.

In stark contrast with this, a modern pretty boy preacher – excuse me, a pretty boy communicator – gets up front and can talk about himself the entire time he is there. He is open, transparent, honest, and emotionally approachable. He is humble, or so it is thought. The evidence? He is humble because he talked about himself a lot. And the other one, the insufferable one, he must think he has a personal pipeline to God. He must think that God wrote a book or something . . . wait.” (p. 23)
We do see too much pride in the pulpit. We must fight the selfish pride that wells up within us. But we must also realize that certainty about what God has said is not arrogance. As Wilson rightly notes later “Arrogance is the sin of assuming yourself to be in the right without warrant from the Word of God” (p. 25). Let us be humble about ourselves, by talking most about Christ and holding fast to his authority unconcerned about the praise of man.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Doug Wilson on the Wisdom Needed for Giving Sharp Critique

I have my disagreements with Doug Wilson (baptism for example). But I have my agreements as well and they are many. I really like reading his material because he will at least give you something worth disagreeing with! You will not be bored and where he sees truth he will press it with fervor.

I have just recently read his book on satire, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003). There are still significant questions about when and how satire can be profitably used, but I enjoyed his book.

My point here though is to cite a passage which contains significant wisdom for the internet discussions taking place currently. As an advocate of satire, Wilson comments here on who is and is not qualified to wield such a sharp sword.

“Of course, in saying al this, there are a few caveats of the ‘don’t try this at home’ variety. I believe that true biblical balance in such things is the fruit of wisdom, and that such balance is not usually found in hot-headed young men who do not know what spirit they are of (Lk. 9:55). Consequently, prophetic rebukes should come from seasoned prophets, from men called to the ministry of guarding those people who belong to the Lord. The work should be done by men of some age and wisdom, and not by novices, firebrands, and zealots. The work should most certainly not be done by the kind of man who practices on his mom, wife, or kids. Satire is a weapon to be employed in the warfare of the kingdom, not an opportunity for personal venting. A man who has a need to cut others is a man who ought to be silent.” (p. 105)

This is a good word.