Friday, February 26, 2010

Funeral Message by Eric Smith

Eric Smith has posted the audio of the message he preached at his grandfather’s funeral a couple of weeks ago. I was privileged to hear this message in person, and I commend it you. It is helpful in several ways. First, it is a moving tribute to the impact of a man’s life on those in his family. I was deeply moved and yearned all the more to lead my family well.

Also, it is a good example of a funeral message. Funeral messages can be a real challenge. Eric’s grandfather is a believer so that helps greatly. Often, though, I talk with pastors who seem hesitant to highlight the grace of God evident in the lives of people. In an effort not to substitute the praise of man for the praise of God, we can forget that we see the grace of God by what He does through people. Eric recounts various ways God blessed him through his grandfather all the while pointing out that every good gift comes from God.

I am thankful this message was recorded and is now available. I requested it that very day, and now I commend it to you.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Preaching Christ in the OT

At the MidWest Founders Conference this week I recommended Lee Tankersley’s sermons as good examples of preaching Christ from the Old Testament. For anyone following up, you can find those sermons here. You could begin with the sermon from this past Sunday on 1 Kings 1-2. Lee does a good job of noting some of the practical items in the text (implications for fathering in this instance) as well as showing how the text ultimately points to Christ.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Not Stars but Servants

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.” (Paul, 1 Cor 3:5-9)

“The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. Not in the former but in the latter is the lack.” (D. Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 109)

“Preachers are not celebrities and Christians are not to act like groupies.” (Tom Ascol)

This is a key point for those of us who lead in God’s church. It is a wicked thing for the servant of the groom to seduce the affections of the bride.

These quotes came together in my mind as I reread today this excerpt from a previous post:

I just came across an essay by Geoff Thomas which addresses this. It is entitled, “Find a Place to Settle,” and is contained in Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, ed. Tom Ascol (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2004). In this quote below Thomas provides an extended quote from Dr. James Stalker on his experience watching a man who had had such an extended ministry.

“It was my happiness, when I was ordained, to be settled next… to an aged and saintly minister. He was a man of competent scholarship, and had the reputation of having been in early life a powerful and popular preacher. But it was not to these gifts that he owed his unique influence. He moved through the town, with his white hair and somewhat staid and dignified demeanour, as a hallowing presence. His very passing in the street was a kind of benediction, and the people, as they looked after him, spoke of him to each other with affectionate veneration, children were proud when he laid his hand on their heads, and they treasured the kindly words which he spoke to them. At funerals and other seasons of domestic solemnity his presence was sought by people of all denominations. We who labored along with him in the ministry felt that his mere existence in the community was an irresistible demonstration of Christianity and a tower of strength to every good cause. Yet he had not gained this position of influence by brilliant talents or great achievements or the pushing of ambition; for he was singularly modest, and would have been the last to credit himself with half the good he did. The whole mystery lay in this, that he had lived in the town for forty years a blameless life, and was known, by everybody to be a godly and prayerful man. He was good enough to honour me with his friendship; and his example wrote deeply upon my mind these two convictions—that it may sometimes be of immense advantage to spend a whole life time in a single pastorate, and that the prime qualification for the ministry is godliness.”

The man to whom he was referring was a certain James Black of Dunnikier and little more than that paragraph of Stalker’s is known of the man or even the place where he labored. Dunnikier is too small to appear in any British atlas. Black was one that army of holy men who have served the Lord in obscure communities modestly and humbly for no reward other than the immense privilege of having so great a Master as our Christ. (pp. 363-364)

May we see more of this sort of ministry.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shepherding Conference Update

As I previously mentioned the conference “Pastoral Ministry: Shepherding God’s Flock” is coming up Tuesday and Wednesday of next week in the St. Louis area. The schedule has been adjusted, however. Dr. John Thornbury who was to speak has had to have heart surgery, and, therefore, will not be able to participate. I am told he is recovering well, and we will miss the opportunity to hear from him. Dr. Phil Newton, pastor of Southwoods Baptist Church in the Memphis area, will now be joining us.

The revised schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010
12:00 Registration
1:30 “Pastoral Ministry” Dr. Phil Newton
3:00 Break
3:30 "Oversight of Souls: The Heart of Pastoral Ministry" Part 1 Dr. Ray Van Neste
5:00 Dinner
6:30 “Gospel Saturated Preaching” Dr. Tom Ascol
Q & A Panel Discussion after Tuesday Evening session

Wednesday, February 24, 2010
9:00 "Oversight of Souls: The Heart of Pastoral Ministry" Part 2 Dr. Ray Van Neste
10:00 Break
10:30 “Pastoral Ministry” Dr. Phil Newton
Noon Lunch
1:30 “Gospel Shaped Ministry” Dr. Tom Ascol
3:00 Break
3:30 “Shepherding a Rebellious People” Dr. Ray Van Neste
5:00 Dinner
6:30 “Jesus Christ: The Pastor’s Message” Dr. Tom Ascol

Friday, February 19, 2010

Should Churches Be as Friendly as a Bar?

Mark Galli has a good article by this title in Christianity Today. He interacts with a recent survey and those fretting over its results which suggest people do not view churches as being as friendly as bars. He raises good questions about the assumptions of those who fret this.

He comments:

Could it be that the culture no longer takes the church seriously because we don't take ourselves seriously? Could it be that the more we strive to be as friendly as a bar, the more we'll be viewed as seriously as people view a bar?
Valuable reading for those of us who lead God’s church to help us make sure we have in view the goals of the Lord of the church rather than the culture around us.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bonhoeffer’s Life Together

Last month I finished reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together. It is truly a spiritual classic. There is so much depth and wisdom here about living the Christian life, particularly living in communion with fellow believers and living in light of the truth having been freely justified in Christ (the imprint of Luther is clear). I was encouraged as I saw much of the practice of my fellow church members reflected here.

In a day when (in Phil Ryken’s words) “church has become a place you go rather than the community to which you belong” Bonhoeffer’s message is particularly needed.

Here are a couple of quotes about the value of community:

“The Physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” (p 19)

“The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians. Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual-physcial creatures.” (pp. 19-20)
Bonhoeffer also deals with the false community we tend to establish where fake closeness by never really facing sin. He powerfully argues that there is no real intimacy until sin is faced and we can come out on the other side.

“Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.” (p. 27)
Similarly, true love will not call us to indulge one another but to help one another toward Christ-likeness. And our own personal ideas of love will not do. We must look to the Scriptures to teach us what love really looks like.

“I do not know in advance what love for others means on the basis of the general idea of love that grows out of my human desires-all this may rather be hatred and an insidious kind of selfishness in the eyes of Christ. What love is, only Christ tells in his Word.” (p. 35)

“Where Christ bids me to maintain fellowship for the sake of love, I will maintain it. Where his truth enjoins me to dissolve a fellowship for love’s sake, there I will dissolve it, despite all the protests of my human love.” (p. 35)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Making of an Atheist Blog Tour

In a previous post I mentioned Jim Speigel’s new book, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief. Now I can post the full schedule of the blog tour for the book. By visiting these blogs you can get a good overview of the book over the next couple of months.

It will be important for us as pastors to help our people in responding the reinvigorated attacks of prominent atheists.  This book will be a great aid.

EPS Blog   February 10-12

Cloud of Witnesses  February 14-16  February 22-24

Truthbomb Apologetics February 25-27

Triablogue  March 1-3

Apologetics 315 March 4-6

Mike Austin’s blog March 8-10

The Seventh Sola  March 11-13

EPS Blog  March 15-17

Evangel and TeamPyro 

Doug Geivett’s blog   March 22-24

Say Hello to my Little Friend  March 25-27 March 29-31

Just Thinking   April 1-3

Oversight of Souls  April 5-7

Constructive Curmudgeon April 8-10

A-Team Blog  April 12-14

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ortlund on Marriage

Valentine's Day puts me off because of what is done with it.  The world around us does not know what love is and so many of the attempts are sad and tragic.

However, the love between a husband and wife is a beautiful thing, supposed to mirror the love of Christ for His Church.  Ray Ortlund has spoken powerfully to this in a recent post which I have pasted in here in full.  This is a good word for husbands and wives.  I am blessed to have a wife who does as Ortlund describes and "breathes life into her man."

"Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:33
God made Adam first and put him in the Garden with a job to do, a mission to fulfill. In the heart of every fallen man is the self-doubt that wonders, “Am I man enough to climb this mountain God has called me to? Can I fulfill my destiny?” A wise wife will understand that question at the center of her husband’s heart. And she will spend her life answering it, communicating to him in various ways, “Honey, I believe in your call. I know you can do this, by God’s power. Go for it.” In this way, she will breathe life into her man.

God made Eve from Adam, for Adam, to help him follow the call. In the heart of every fallen woman is the self-doubt that wonders, “Do I please you? Am I what you wanted?” A wise husband will understand that question at the center of his wife’s heart. And he will spend his life answering it, communicating to her in various ways, “Darling, you are the one I need. I cherish you. Let me hold you close.” In this way, he will breathe life into his wife.

John MacArthur on How to Serve Christians Who Are Needlessly Restrictive

Andy Naselli has posted audio and a written summary of John MacArthur’s response to the question:

How would you approach a congregation trapped in years of legalistic tradition?
MacArthur’s call for patient loving instruction is helpful, providing a good portrait of shepherding.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Making of an Atheist

I am pleased to be participating in a blog tour for Jim Speigel’s new book, The Making of an Atheist. Once the tour schedule is completed I will post it. I am not scheduled to post on the book for a while, but the book came yesterday and I have been quite taken with it. First, the subtitle got me: “How Immorality Leads to Unbelief.” Yes! The Bible is clear on this point so I rejoiced in seeing someone willing to state this clearly in a book.

Then his introduction makes this point even more clearly. He is writing in response to the New Atheism, but his goal is not to respond to their various arguments (others have done so and these arguments are nothing new). Instead he states:

"I want to show that atheism is not ultimately about arguments and evidence." (10)

"Atheism is not at all a consequence of intellectual doubts. Such doubts are mere symptoms of the root cause- moral rebellion. For the atheist, the missing ingredient is not evidence but obedience." (11)
The New Atheism, Spiegel notes, “is little more than moral rebellion cloaked in academic regalia” (16).

Of course Spiegel is not the first to diagnose this moral cause of unbelief. He stands in an honored line of philosophers and theologians, and it is refreshing to see this truth clearly and boldly stated today.

I am excited to read the rest of the book and invite you to join me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interview in Towers

The February 8, 2010 edition of Southern Seminary’s Towers Magazine includes a brief interview with me on the importance of shepherding souls (p. 16). The key concerns which animate this blog come out in the interview.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Imagination the Basis of Ethics, Worldview

Below is a recent post from my blog on children's literature, "The Children's Hour."  It concerns the role of the imagination in the development of a worldview and in sanctification.  This is a significant pastoral issue btoh in the pastor's role of thinking about the training of the children in the church and just in thinking about the way adults think as well.

David Mills' article, "Enchanting Children: Training Up a Child Requires a Well Formed Imagination" (from Touchstone) is a great resource for parents. He deals with several issues, primarily the importance of the imagination in shaping life. He argues that the imagination shapes life more than the facts we know and that stoires are the key factor shaping our imaginations. Therefore we ought to be very diligent in guarding what stories our children take in- e.g. limit television and read them good stories. I agree wholeheartedly!

Here are some quotes.
On the importance of imagination Mills wrote:

We tend to rely, I think, too much on knowledge. Even if Johnny has memorized the Baltimore Catechism or the Westminster Confession, or even hundreds of verses of Scripture, if his imagination has been formed by the wider, secular culture, he will respond to temptations as a secularist, not as a Christian.

He will know that fornication is wrong and that intercourse is a gift reserved for marriage, but he will feel that it is a recreational activity to be enjoyed ... When he brings himself to temptation, his feelings are more likely to move him than his thoughts, and of course once he falls, his thoughts will start to change to fit his feelings.
Revulsion is a much better protection from the force of the passions than an intellectual understanding by itself. To feel “This is yucky” is not a final protection from sin, but it is better than thinking “This is wrong” but feeling “This is okay.” Lust offers the paradigmatic case (examples come quickly to mind), but this is true of pride, gluttony, envy, and all the rest, even sloth.
He encoourages avoiding the warped stories which cascade from the television and developing a family culture more oriented to reading. He admits this will be difficult and will set you apart as odd in comparison with others.

But it is worth the effort. Hearing his father or mother read a good story forces the child to hear and begin to imagine stories he would not necessarily read himself, and it gives you another time to talk with him about the deeper things, without being overtly religious in the way that puts off so many children
He continues:
Good stories read seriously and with enjoyment will help form a child’s imagination, and give it a shape it will never entirely lose, no matter what the child does when he grows older. But we would be foolish to rely on stories to do more than stories can. Wise Christian parents will immerse themselves and their children ever more deeply in the life of the Church, whose worship and teaching and charity and fellowship will be the most profound creator of the Christian imagination.

There they should meet Jesus. The world in which the child knows that Jesus is present is a world he will always live by, even in reaction and even when he convinces himself that it is an illusion. The well-formed imagination is a gift that keeps on giving.
As St. James pointed out, even the devils believe, in the sense that they know what the reality is (James 2:19). But they cannot imagine that the reality is good. They may know of God the Father, but to them such Fatherhood feels like domination and oppression, because their imaginations are so completely corrupted. They do not hear “Thus says the Lord” as “Here is the antidote for the poison that is killing you,” but as “Down, vermin slaves.” Think of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, who hears Aslan’s kind words only as a threatening growl.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Psalm 19

Aaron O’Kelly delivered a wonderful sermon this morning at Cornerstone on Psalm 19. I was helped by his exposition noting how God speaks through creation and Scripture and that this speech calls for a response. It is well worth a listen.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

350 Pounds of Books

Here is a statement just released from Union University's Ryan Center for Biblical Studies about a wonderful opportunity:

The Ryan Center has an exciting opportunity to partner with Indigenous Outreach International in their ministry in Ethiopia. IOI, founded and led by Union alum Patrick Beard, has been working in Ethiopia for years. This April they will launch a library/reading room with English language materials. The library will have two primary purposes. First, it will provide resources for area pastors. In this way it is practically a sister institution to the Ryan Center. Secondly, it will have an evangelistic purpose. The public schools in Ethiopia teach English as a required subject and the students are eager for anything to read in English. This library will give them the opportunity to read English Bibles and Bible material. I think this is a wonderful project.

The Ryan Center is helping to gather books. We are accepting donations of books to place on the shelves there in Addis Ababa. When Patrick and his team go to launch the library in April they have room in their luggage for 350 pounds of books.

Will you help us collect 350 pounds of useful books to help pastors and to proclaim the gospel in Ethiopia? A wide variety of Christian literature is needed. In addition to a case of Bibles that has already been donated we hope to add Bible study materials, books on theology, Christian living, church life, etc. Many Ethiopians have an excellent ability to read English but since it is not their first language they would benefit most from books which are easy to understand, perhaps on a school age level.

Book donations can be sent/brought to the Ryan Center. We will screen the books before sending them on. Any that are not best suited for the library will be used in other ways here. Also, since the airlines now charge for extra baggage you can help pay this cost, if you are able, by placing a dollar in books you donate.

If you have any questions about this project feel free to contact Brian Denker ( or Ray Van Neste (

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Bold Testimony

I appreciated Eric Smith’s recent post, “Meeting a True Bishop,” for the portrayal of proper pastoral boldness in the life of Basil the Great. It brought to mind a section I had just read in Baptist Piety: The Last Will and Testimony of Obadiah Holmes.

Edwin Gaustad, the author, is describing the setting into which Holmes was born. He recounts the martyrdom of John Bradford who had pastored in Stockport, the village nearest Holmes’ birthplace. Five months before he was burned at the stake, Bradford wrote his parishioners from prison with a powerful exhortation including these words:

Oh! forget not how the Lord hath showed himself true, and me his true preacher, by bringing to pass these plagues which at my mouth you oft heard me preach of before they came: specially when I treated of Noah’s flood and when I preached of the 23rd chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel on St. Stephen’s day, the last time that I was with you … you have been warned, and warned again, by me in preaching, by me in burning.” (p. 6; emphasis added)

This sort of pastoral exhortation and example is powerful. No trite truisms, or bland clich├ęs here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Holiest Day of the Year

The flap over the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad has been interesting and particularly revealing. About a week ago I heard a guy on ESPN complaining about it (his name has escaped me) and I remember thinking, “He is making a religious argument.” He was essentially arguing that the Super Bowl was sacred space that was sullied by such discussions.

Then, today, I read the latest Shepherd Press newsletter which quoted sports writer Greg Doyle as saying this:

"And I'm not complaining about the ad because it's anti-abortion and I'm not. I'm complaining about the ad because it's pro-politics. And I'm not. Not on Super Sunday. If you're a sports fan, and I am, that's the holiest day of the year. That's a day for five hours of football pregame shows and four hours of football game and three hours of postgame football analysis. That's a day for football addicts to gorge themselves to the gills on football.

It's not a day to discuss abortion. For it, against it, I don't care what you are. On Super Sunday, I don't care what I am. Feb. 7 is simply not the day to have that discussion."

Wow! Someone will say he is intentionally exaggerating.  However, notice that this event is supposed to nullify for the moment any other weighty matters.  In other words it is sacred.  Revealing.
We are always a religious people.  The only question is, "Who are the gods?"

Monday, February 01, 2010

Audio of the Psalms

As another way of imbibing the Psalms I recently purchased The Listener’s Psalms and Proverbs, narrated by Max McLean from McLean reading voice is well known, and he does a good job with the Psalms. The text being read is the NIV. I have long appreciated the rendering of the Psalms in the NIV- I think it is the greatest strength of the NIV.

In Bible reading, I am most accustomed to close, slow reading of small texts. Listening gives me the opportunity to take in larger sections of texts, hearing Psalm after Psalm. It takes time to acclimate to this form of reading. Of course, you can’t pay attention to all the details as you can in slow reading. However, I have noticed broader patterns and themes, and connections across the Psalms. It has been beneficial to just allow the words of the Psalms to wash over my mind on the ride into work, or home, or wherever. I am really enjoying this recording.