Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Gospel and the Mind, Brad Green

The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual LifeBrad Green’s new book, The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life (Crossway) is now available. Since Brad is a good friend and colleague, I have had the privilege of hearing him discuss portions of this book along the way, and can testify that this will be a very helpful book. I look forward to reading it!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Alfred the Great on the Psalms

The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the GreatAnother striking thing from Ben Merkle’s book, The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great, was the value he saw in the Psalms. Well before Wycliffe, Alfred, King of Wessex, was translating the Psalms for his people as part of his “essential books everyone should read” project.

“The translation of the Psalms was Alfred’s last project, being only one-third complete at the king’s death. These psalms, primarily the songs of King David composed throughout the king of Israel’s tumultuous reign, had always had a special place in Alfred’s heart. Having memorized many of the psalms in his youth, Alfred had used these sacred words throughout his life to embolden himself in battle, encourage himself in despondency, humble himself in his sins, and comfort himself in his forgiveness. The entire spectrum of Alfred’s personal trials and triumphs seemed to have been lived out already by the shepherd king of Israel. More than any other text, the book of Psalms had become the poetry of Alfred’s life.

Thus, it is no surprise that when searching for the ‘books most necessary for all men to know,’ Alfred’s thoughts turned to the book of Psalms. This was fit reading material for the king and for the peasant, for the warrior and for the clergyman, for the novice and for the sage. Interestingly, of all the texts Alfred translated, the king’s rendering of the Psalms remained the most consistently literal throughout, with very little of the king’s own explanatory additions to the text. Alfred felt this was a book that needed little assistance in speaking to the Anglo-Saxon heart.” (191)

Friday, March 26, 2010

The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great

I recently read Benjamin Merkle’s The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great (not the Ben Merkle at Southeastern Seminary). I have commented often here on the value of history reading for pastors (as well as others), and this book has much value in this realm as well. Alfred was an amazing man who accomplished much.

The first six chapters of the book primarily tell of the struggle of Alfred and his predecessors against the Viking invasions. There are compelling battle stories and reminders of the blessing of peace. Also the description of the “shield wall” formation used in battle provides a powerful picture of church unity.

The great strength of the book in my opinion, though, is chapter seven which describes Alfred’s effort to rejuvenate his country. They had resisted the foreign invader, but he realized they needed more to ensure domestic health. He believed the Vikings were only a symptom of the greater problem of his people’s turn away from Christianity and the resultant loss of learning and character. Here are a few quotes:

“The English church had grown complacent, indolent, and lethargic. Numbed by their prosperity, their love of learning grew cold, and their interest in Christian study died off altogether. . . . By neglecting the study of the great works of Christendom, the Bible in particular, the Anglo-Saxon people had lost not only the ability to read but more important, the ability to understand the wisdom of God. England, through her intellectual lethargy, was slowly devolving into a pagan nation, a people who neither knew nor served the Christian God.” (179)

“If Christian virtue were to return to England, then the Anglo-Saxons would need to return to Christian learning. With an eye toward restoring this learned piety to the people, Alfred orchestrated a tremendous revival of literacy, a revival that culminated in the greatest literary renaissance ever experienced in Anglo-Saxon Britain.” (184)

“Alfred truly was the great king of England, the one monarch who rightly understood the needs of the nation and unrelentingly gave all he had to supply those needs.
England, and the many nations descended from her, still have Alfred to thank for a substantial portion of the heritage and freedoms that they enjoy today. The title ‘Alfred the Great,’ so strangely offensive to the modern ear, was well deserved by the Anglo-Saxon warrior-king.” (233)

There is much to glean from Alfred on the work of restoring a culture, of the value of learning, and the renewal of the church.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pastoral Ministry: Hard Work for the Salvation of Souls and the Restoration of the World

Calvin commenting on 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 states well the importance of hard work in pastoral ministry and what our work actually is.

In the first place, he says that they labor. From this it follows, that all idle bellies are excluded from the number of pastors. Farther, he expresses the kind of labor when he adds, those that admonish, or instruct, you. It is to no purpose, therefore, that any, that do not discharge the office of an instructor, glory in the name of pastors. ...

Now, this work is the edification of the Church, the everlasting salvation of souls, the restoration of the world, and, in fine, the kingdom of God and Christ. The excellence and dignity of this work are inestimable: hence those whom God makes ministers in connection with so great a matter, ought to be held by us in great esteem.
(emphasis added)
(HT: Gentry Hill)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Practical Shepherding, new blog

Brian Croft, pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church, Louisville, KY, is a faithful pastor whom I am blessed to call a friend. He has written two very helpful books on pastoral ministry (Visit the Sick, & Test, Train, Affirm, and Send into Ministry: Recovering the Local Church’s Responsibility to the External Call), so I am pleased that he has launched a blog dedicated to specific issues in pastoral ministry. It is titled Practical Shepherding. Some of his current posts deal with helping a wife who is hurt by her husband’s use of pornography, ministering to widows, and identifying men in your church who are called for ministry. This is useful material for pastors and I encourage you to give it a look.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Communion with Christ and with the Saints

"Communion with Christ and with the Saints"

Isaac Watts

Jesus invites His saints
To meet around His board;
Here pardoned rebels sit and hold
Communion with their Lord.

For food He gives His flesh,
He bids us drink His blood;
Amazing favor, matchless grace
Of our descending God!

This holy bread and wine
Maintains our fainting breath,
By union with our Living Lord,
And interest in His death.

Our heavenly Father calls
Christ and His members one;
We, the young children of His love,
And He, the firstborn Son.

We are but several parts
Of the same broken bread;
One body hath its several limbs,
But Jesus is the Head.

Let all our powers be joined
His glorious name to raise;
Pleasure and love fill every mind,
And every voice be praise.

Quoted in Worthy Is the Lamb: Puritan Poetry in Honor of Christ
Maureen Bradley; Edited by Don Kistler and Joel Rishel (page 238)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don’t Seduce the Church

Here is a good warning to preachers against exalting ourselves before the church:
“For that man is an enemy to his Redeemer who on the strength of the good works he performs, desires to be loved by the Church, rather than by Him. Indeed, a servant is guilty of adulterous thought, if he craves to please the eyes of the bride when the bridegroom sends gifts to her by him.” (Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 75)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Longing for Resurrection

Even the ancient pagan stories bear witness to the universal human longing to overcome death. In the Aeneid Aeneas begs for permission to visit the realm of the dead to consult his father. In response he is told by the prophetess:

The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies. (Dryden trans.)
Indeed! It is easy to enter the realm of the dead. To come back out, that is the trouble. We gather in the morning to worship the one who did just this, who entered death and emerged triumphant enabling all his people to do the same.

The prophetess tells Aeneas that only a few in Greco-Roman mythology have been able to re-emerge from the realm of the dead and they were all semi-divine sons of gods. In fact only one conquered death, the fully divine Son of God. And, now He has made it possible for all those who believe in him to be made children of God who will also re-emerge from the realm of the dead.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:54b-57)

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I have often commented here on the importance of pastors being involved in the lives of their people. Here is a comment from a student paper in my pastoral ministry class affirming this truth.

“My best memory of my pastor is not a great sermon that he preached, but the fact that he invited me into his home on Thanksgiving when he found out my step-dad was in the hospital and my family wasn’t having a Thanksgiving dinner. I feel like I learned more from that than I have from a message he preached, and through him doing that I’m more prone to listen to his messages and believe him on Sundays.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Older Saints are a Treasure

In our age which idolizes youth we often miss the biblical teaching which esteems age and, as a result, miss the treasure that our older saints are. They are a great blessing to the church too often overlooked.

Recently I had the opportunity to converse with an elderly lady from out of town. She has memories of life during World War II and primarily told me of her father, a faithful man of God of whom she is very proud. She related incident after incident where God intervened and provided for her father or for her in amazing and sometimes miraculous ways. These were not the outlandish fantasies of youth but the measured steady testimony of one who has walked with God for many decades. She often apologized for “going on” and said apologetically, “I could keep you here for a year with such stories.” I assured her that hearing these was good for my soul.

I started to leave, but some comment stirred another story. She related how her marriage had been difficult years ago when her husband, whom I had just met, was unconverted. There was a time when he was regularly drunk and abusive. Her children had even intervened at one point offering her the opportunity to move in with them or with another friend. She told me what she had said to them. “No. You do not understand. I chose to marry this man. I was only 17 at the time, but I promised ‘for better or for worse.’ Right now all you see is the worst. But a better day is coming.” A few years later he was converted and has now walked with the Lord for years. I had noticed earlier in the visit his Bible, pen and brief commentary situated neatly at a table where he obviously met with God regularly. He now serves as a deacon and was at that moment out making visits for the church.

What a blessing to see and hear faithfulness and God’s care lived out. Take time to hear the stories of those who have walked with God for years. Thank God for the gift of senior saints.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ortlind on Wisdom

Ray Ortlund, always worth hearing, has a good word on "How to become a Sage." Here is an excerpt:

Principle: The further we advance in Christ, the more we marvel at his untapped riches.

Corollary: The more we feel people need our opinions, the more obvious it is they don’t.

Another corollary: The more we feel we have to learn, the more we might have to offer.

So, how to become a sage? “Let the wise hear . . . .”
So true.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

“Strive to Be Ordinary”

In my Pastoral Ministry class today B. J. Maxwell, pastor of Unity Baptist in Millington, TN, gave a lecture titled, “Strive to Be Ordinary.” It was an excellent exhortation to pursue faithful ministry to people rather than the trappings of success. I attempted to record it but was unsuccessful. The manuscript should be available soon, and I will link to it.

Maxwell began by rooting pastoral ministry in a proper understanding of the church. Is it a business to keep profitable? A team to be coached? A brand to be marketed? Or God's redeemed and sojourning people who need shepherding on their journey home? Because the church is a unique entity, pastoral ministry is a one-of-a-kind service. It cannot be approached or defined by categories of this world.

He described pastoral ministry as helping people to die well.

The heart of the presentation was “five rungs for climbing down the ladder toward ordinariness.”

1. Get acquainted with suffering

2. Develop a theology or vocabulary of encouragement. Learn how to encourage God’s people with the gospel.

3. Focus largely on micro-ministry before macro-ministry (i.e. needs of specific people before structural or programmatic issues)

4. Think in terms of decades and generations rather than weeks and years.

“Work today not with an eye to impressing the state paper, but with an eye to shaping your grandchildren.”

5. Recover simple personal discipleship
UPDATE: The manuscript is now available here. Highly recommended!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns

Justin Wainscott has a fascinating, provocative interview at his site with Dr. T. David Gordon, author of Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers. The interview is about Gordon’s sequel, Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-Wrote the Hymnal (to be published by P&R early this summer).

Wainscott’s questions and Gordon’s answers are provocative and helpful. Here is one excerpt from Gordon.

There probably is a relationship between not reading poetry and tolerating contemporary worship music. If one reads poetry, one comes to appreciate language that is well-crafted; in the process, one becomes less accepting of language that is poorly crafted. So, most contemporary worship makes me cringe not only musically but also lyrically (not to mention theologically). The commercial forces in our culture want us to be content with pablum, because it is easier to produce pablum than really good stuff. Those commercial forces have pushed us away from demanding disciplines such as reading verse (where there is almost no room for significant commercial profit); and in the process, we as a culture no longer notice inferior art, because we are surrounded by it.
Check out the interview. This is a book I will be watching for.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oversight of Souls PowerPoint

I have had several requests for the PowerPoint slides with historical quotes on the place of oversight in pastoral ministry which I have used in an address here at Union and last month at the Midwest Regional Founders Conference. Almost all of those quotes have previously appeared on this site. However, the slides (in PowerPoint or PDF) are now available.

May these echoes from the past stir us all to faithful shepherding.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Solomon and Pastoral Wisdom

This past Sunday Lee Tankersely preached a good message on 1 Kings 3-11, Solomon’s rise & fall. Chapter 3 caught me afresh with implications for pastoral ministry. As Solomon came to the throne the Lord essentially granted him a wish. We know he asked for wisdom and this pleased the Lord so that the Lord gave Solomon wisdom plus wealth, honor and long life.

The Davidic king is not a type of the New Testament pastor, but there are some lesser parallels here. Solomon in chapter three is beginning his role of leading the people of God. If God, as you began a new pastorate, offered you any wish in regards to your ministry, what would you ask for? Longevity? Increase, of wealth or membership? Honor? Or wisdom so that we might shepherd God’s people well?

What struck me was the motivation Solomon gives for his request for wisdom. We know he learned from his father the value of wisdom. But, he does not say, “I know wisdom is the greatest thing so please give me wisdom.” His request is not so abstract. Rather, he acknowledges his inexperience (“I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in”, v. 7) and the greatness of the people. His request arises from humility, acknowledging the greatness of the task and his need for divine aid to adequately lead the people of God. Surely God’s pleasure in this request is tied not only to God’s esteem of wisdom, but even more so to God’s love for His people and his desire for leaders to care for His people (cf. Acts 20).

Surely pastors today realize our own inability to adequately shepherd the people of God. Rather than dreaming of large numbers or wide acclaim, let us ask God for wisdom to lead God’s people well. This will please God.

Joy in Communion, Once More

I have previously commented here on the fact that we should come joyfully to the Lord’s table contrary to some practice and teaching we have received. Ray Ortlund recently posted this quote which nicely affirms this point as well.

“We come as children to our Father’s table and to sit there with Jesus Christ, our elder brother. Now a father does not love to have his child sitting in a sullen and dogged way at his table or to be crying, but would rather have the child sitting in comfort with a holy cheerfulness, with a holy freedom of spirit, not in a sullen way, but as a child in the presence of his father, and not as a servant with the master.”

Jeremiah Burroughs, Gospel Worship (Ligonier, 1990), page 330.