Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Christmas Linebacker

His theology..? Well... let's just say... it's "impacting."

HT: Shane

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Take Me Back"

Ed Gilbreath's post of The Soul Children of Chicago "took me back." So, all day I've been humming a favorite song that I remember growing up called, "Take Me Back." Here's the late COGIC Bishop Gilbert Patterson leading the congregation in that song before taking communion.

And after a song like that... the pastor would ask something like, "How many of y'all know... that since that day... all night and all day... the angel of the Lord has been watching over you? How many of y'all know that?!" Right on cue, the congregation would break out in response with something like "All Night, All Day." Here's Robert Turner:

We'd just be getting started good. The sister on the piano would keep tinkling dem keys, and there'd be a clamorous couple minutes of celebration... then, "Oh I Want to See Him!"

But even over the last couple days, I've been musing on another song I remember growing up. This time the Gaithers' "He Touched Me" (of course, we would have given a bit of reprise to it):

When Ed G. Digs in the Vault...

This is what he brings out for Thanksgiving. Thanks for taking me back, Ed!

Walt Whitman and The Soul Children of Chicago.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Are You Still Giving, or Are You Cowering from the Economic Crisis?

We're just about to wrap up some budget planning at FBC. I know a number of other churhces are in the same activity as we. And it's been interesting to hear and consider how Christians are connecting the economic woes dot with the giving dot.

Given the data, one can only conclude that many treasure this world and its coffers more than they treasure Christ. That they have not sold all and purchased this One Pearl of Great Price.

A couple have passed along articles I've found helpful as we've tried to address the questions we're sometimes receiving.

The Decline and Fall of Charity
Studies like those in Arthur Brooks' Who Really Cares routinely show that churchgoers, particularly conservative evangelicals, comprise the most generous slice of society, yet the generosity and volunteerism of these very people are at historic lows. Moreover, plenty of Americans inside the Church and out think the opposite is true; they take it as a given that charitable giving among the religious is happening at the pace it has in the past.

A Lot of Lattes: Stingy Christians in an Age of Opulence

This is a review of Passing the Plate: Why Americans Don't Give Away More Money. Here's a snippet from the review:

Chapter 2 outlines the dismal reality of what American Christians actually give. Twenty percent of American Christians (19 percent of Protestants; 28 percent of Catholics) give nothing to the church. Among Protestants, 10 percent of evangelicals, 28 percent of mainline folk, 33 percent of fundamentalists, and 40 percent of liberal Protestants give nothing. The vast majority of American Christians give very little—the mean average is 2.9 percent. Only 12 percent of Protestants and 4 percent of Catholics tithe.

A small minority of American Christians give most of the total donated. Twenty percent of all Christians give 86.4 percent of the total. The most generous five percent give well over half (59.6 percent) of all contributions. But higher-income American Christians give less as a percentage of household income than poorer American Christians. In the course of the 20th century, as our personal disposable income quadrupled, the percentage donated by American Christians actually declined.

A Retraction

I'm learning to listen to my wife. It's part of what it means to live with your wife in a considerate or understanding way (1 Pet. 3:7).

An anonymous visitor to the site didn't find the video I posted re: changes with the national coordinator of Emergent stuff very funny. The video used a movie scene featuring a distraught Adolf Hitler and his advisors in a bunker to parody the Emergent shake up. My wife didn't find it funny either.

So, I've removed the video. And, with sincerity, I apologize to all those offended by the video and its use of that scene to poke fun at Emergent leaders. Please pray that those offended would receive this apology in the spirit in which it's intended, and that I would exercise better discernment.

Grace and peace in Christ Jesus our Lord, who saved us from the holocaust of God's wrath, and made us wretches a holy nation.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Read Christless Christianity

It was a privilege to read an advanced copy and offer an endorsement of Michael Horton's new book, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. What I appreciated most about Horton's book is that he turned his usually sharp mind and insight to focus on a slate of errors that affects masses of Christians in the Church, instead of focusing on other serious but more academic challenges. In other words, the book helps us address our people about things that are breathed so plentifully in the Christian ecospace: prosperity "gospel"; moralistic, therapeutic deism; and subjective individualism.

Here's a video of Mike talking about the book and a pdf of the first chapter.

Also, here is the first part of that video of Mike discussing the book:

Discerning reader has a review here.

I received my published copy in the mail today. Thanks Michael and Baker! I look forward to re-reading and considering again its content.

Here's what others have said in support of the book:

Horton confronts modern evangelicalism in terms reminiscent of J. Gresham Machen's challenge to liberalism in the 1920s. Both authors spotlight flaws that do more than distort Christian faith; they reject it. Horton's brush is broad--expect loud lamentation from the evangelical camp--but the picture he paints is largely accurate. His argument is convincing: therapeutic moralism has, in fact, found a home among evangelicals.
Parker T. Williamson, editor emeritus and senior correspondent, The Presbyterian Layman
Christless Christianity makes an important contribution in defense of the centrality of Christ to vibrant Christian life and witness. Horton has ably helped us see the train wreck that is so much of popular Christianity. While others are legitimately concerned with errors originating in the academy, errors that excite the intellectual but few average pew sitters are even aware of, Horton turns his sharp mind to exposing the mass production of a kinder, happier legalism that robs the average Christian of the liberating joy of knowing the Jesus whose work is finished and never improved. A more important and timely volume could not have been written.
Thabiti Anyabwile, senior pastor, First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Christless Christianity establishes Michael Horton as the outstanding protagonist for classical Protestant orthodoxy. His wide-ranging and carefully researched examples show how our churches and megachurches have pandered to the culture with Gnostic, Pelagian, moralistic, and self-help heresies bereft of the saving action of Jesus Christ. He leaves us with a profound trust and a sure confidence in our biblical faith. What could be more important?
Episcopal Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison

Needing a Little Inspiration from the Obamas

Many people find the Obamas inspiring. Even some of those most opposed to their political views have at times had to admit admiring this or that about President-Elect Obama. I know... I know... there are some who can't bring themselves to admit even one thing they appreciate about the Obamas. But, here's one way I hope I'm inspired by them. I need this inspiration and I have the waistline to prove it!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Looking for a Good Time to Coast?

Oh, Lord, keep me from suffocating in comfort and coasting toward insignificance! Give me the zeal of Phineas and the radically cross-consumed vision of Paul! Don't let me coast and rust out! Please.

HT: Unashamed Workman

Friday, November 21, 2008

How's the Mrs?

So, the problem with the "Mamas don't let your babies to grow up to be pastors" video (besides the "Silly Songs with Larry" feeling you get listening to it) is that it actually points to some things that make you say "ouch!" Well, that's not a problem. That's helpful.

That video takes a light-hearted look at a serious temptation and problem: pastors neglecting their homes. I've too often neglected my home and failed to give time to my family--not only where needed, but where not "needed" as well. Just to enjoy the wife of my youth and like Edwards be fascinated in play with my children.

This is a serious problem for pastors. The gravity of it was captured, for me, in a short post from David Matthis at the DG blog. It's Grudem's brief comments on 1 Peter 3:7. Read it here and be challenged to give yourself afresh to your wife (or husband).

Because This Blog Doesn't Have Enough Country Music References...

I'm passing on this video courtesy of Tom Goodman at Get Anchored.

"Mommas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Pastors"

I'm gonna have to make a couple adjustments based on a thing or two that hit a little close to home. But the bit about not letting them buy "ole books" was blasphemy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Move Your "But"

Dan Phillips over at Pyromaniacs has one very instructive response to a range of reasons and excuses for not being involved in a local church. The original post drawing the responses was "Why You Need to Be in a Church This Sunday." The advice he gives to respondents is: "move your 'but'." That's not a mis-spelling. To see what he means, check here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Whoop

At the Miami Pastors' Conference, one of the best things to experience is the genuine Christian fellowship and laughter. I laugh there and in Chicago at the New Life conference more than any place on earth. That's 'cause the bruthas are silly.

This past conference, Ken Jones, Michael Leach, and Anthony Carter grilled a young man about why he feels compelled to whoop. Now whoopin' is a staple of traditional African-American preaching. If you can't 'hoop, you can't preach. And don't let Leach fool ya; he's a 'hooper :-). Anyway, if you've never seen a preacher 'hoop, it's better to illustrate than describe. Here's a video for the uninitiated.

Now what's new to me in this video is the lady in the corner doing sign language for the hearing impaired. Ever seen a 'hoop signed??? She's smooth with it. Check her out as the preacher gets rolling!

The Praying Deacon

I thought this was funny.... Laugh; it's Wednesday.

A Touching Story...

Trivia question: Who is the longest tenured African-American in the White House? A touching story from the Washington Post gives the answer.

Do You Enjoy Your Church Gatherings?

One of the most frequent comments you're likely to hear following a Lord's Day service is "I enjoyed the service." Thankfully, we hear that a lot at FBC. It's good that people enjoy the service; enjoying the service is a lot better than not enjoying it. Could you imagine greeting people after the service and several folks walking by with, "I didn't enjoy that at all." "Wow. That was lousy." "Shoulda slept in and watched the game." "Woulda been better to go fishing."

What a brutal morning that would be.

But what does it mean to enjoy a gathering of the local church? Better yet, how is the enjoyment of the service different for different elements of the service?

I also meet a lot of folks who have a favorite part of the service. Some really enjoy the music and singing. Others really enjoy the sermon and preaching. A few say they either love the singing or the preaching and sorta survive the other.

I want everyone in the service to enjoy every part of the service. But yesterday I was thinking that a bit of caution might be warranted here. Precisely what is meant by "enjoy"? And can a sermon or a prayer be "enjoyed" the same way a song can be enjoyed?
It seems to me that singing and music have some distinct advantages when it comes to producing what is readily recognized as arms raised, eyes shut, tip-toe-standing enjoyment. First, we tend to sing a repertoire of songs, some of which are favorites. The repetition (though not too much) increases mastery and familiarity, and thereby helps the enjoyment. Second, the nature of music--with its harmony and melody--seem divinely created to arouse pleasure and joy. Even when we sing sad songs (the blues) there is an accompanying enjoyment. The sadness actually melts into an appreciation for that aspect of life and beauty. A third advantage of music and singing is its close relationship to entertainment in general. The goal of entertainment is to please the consumer, to excite and stir a lightness (usually) and subjective valuation. Because we love entertainment so much, and the basis of our enjoyment is largely subjective, and because singing and music in Christian services are of the same cloth, singing and music (assuming its at least average) are more easily enjoyable for most people.

What happens when our entertainment and enjoyment assumptions about music and singing become the evaluation criteria for other elements of the service (prayer and sermon)?

Neither prayers or sermons are generally thought of as forms of entertainment. Neither are so nearly as acceptably subjective as our experience of music and song. Neither prayer or sermons enjoy the advantage of repetition; each prayer and sermon are different. Rarely does a preacher preach to the same congregation the same text without feeling like the familiarity and repetition are distinct disadvantages in some ways. In short, prayers and sermons are different animals than music and song.

That's why if we evaluate our "enjoyment" of prayers and sermons using the same criteria (often assumed and not explicitly considered) we may find ourselves really loving the music and singing (which is good to love) and enduring the sermon and prayers.

Sermons and prayers require work. It's work to pray. And it's work to give attention to a sermon. And if a prayer becomes entertaining, we leave feeling like something profane has just happened. A loss of appropriate awe and decorum in prayer instinctively feels like strange fire. I remember once hearing a brother actually crack a joke in a prayer. The gasp was audible. The entire room choked in disbelief. The joke was actually funny in retrospect; but it was jarringly inappropriate in a public gathering addressing God the Father. It's not that God doesn't have a sense of humor; He does. It's that prayer is not entertainment. Something fundamentally different is happening, and so we need different criteria for describing the enjoyment of prayer.

The same is true with preaching. It's a different animal than singing and music. The person who enjoys a sermon has to listen for something different than melody and rhythm and tune and time and harmony. I think those things must be there, but not the way they are in music. There must be harmony with the text. There must be a certain rhythm to the sermon (not spending too much time on one point). And there must be white space... pauses and modulation of the voice and intensity. Those things have their place. But if they are done to accomplish an effect akin to the enjoyment derived from singing and music, the inevitable result will be turning the sermon into a kind of entertainment, a spoken word album of sorts, which actually harms the intent of preaching and the sermon. If a song leader becomes an entertainer, at least among the unsuspecting, he's considered "good" at leading. If the preacher becomes an entertainer, he's doomed.

To enjoy a sermon or prayer, it seems you really must enjoy:

1. Thinking. Songs carry thoughts (increasingly the choruses only carry one thought). And if we sing well, we sing with understanding. But songs tend to be commercial-length thinking. Sermons tend to be at least sit-com length, and perhaps even drama length. The level of thinking required in the sermon can feel like a tax if you actually don't want to think that much. And so enjoyment may be weakened by a resistance to thinking.

2. Argument. Sermons not only demand thought, they actually demand some level of argument. There is sustained reasoning, illustration, advancement of points, anticipation of objections, and so on. If you don't like thinking, you probably won't like following arguments. You probably won't like the Pauline epistles. You'd probably prefer narratives and the "stories" of the Bible. And you probably won't enjoy preaching that much as a general rule. In fact, you probably don't like the good hymns either, since they often advance an argument of some sort. But to enjoy a sermon, a person must enjoy a well-made argument and be able to follow it.

3. Reflection. Sermons and prayers often insist on a fair amount of introspection and application. Songs and music are outstanding for leaving you with good feelings. And feeling good after singing truth is good. Yet, it takes quite a bit of skill to turn music and singing into extended reflection and lasting change. That's the role of the sermon and to some extent good prayer. In prayer there is confession and repentance and dependence and resolution. In the sermon there is application and teaching and correction and encouragement and rebuke and so on. If you don't want your sins to find you out, if you don't like to be spiritually challenged, if you don't want to reflect on how you think, feel, live and so on, then chances are you don't enjoy sermons very much. To enjoy a sermon, you must be willing to reflect on the implications of what's being said for all of life.

4. Listening. All of what I've said above presumes an ability and willingness to practice disciplined listening. Most people listen differently when they sing. Again, they listen for harmony, melody, rhythm... pleasing sounds that are intuited rather than cogitated (unless you're a musician or can read music). With prayer and sermons, there must be some cogitation; and that requires skillful listening. In a day and age where "huh" is a complete thought, listening may be a rare jewel. Listening is not particularly valued in a culture where laugh tracks cue all our "spontaneous" giggles and "outbursts." But if we would enjoy and really benefit from public or private prayer and sermons, we must enjoy (or at least not mind) listening.

5. Praise. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about how we talk about public services is we limit "praise" only to the portions of the service where we sing or hear music. We even talk about "praise music." So, for many people, in subtle but real ways, "praise" is not what you're doing when you pray or listen to a sermon or give (there's something else that has a different standard for enjoyment). For many people, sermons are not praise because we think we're not "doing anything" when we listen, think, argue, and reflect. "We're just sitting there," we tell ourselves. But I like Piper's definition of preaching as "expository exultation." The aim of preaching is to help our people exult, revel, delight in God. Nothing is more appropriately considered praise than being led by the preached word to exult in the God of all creation who redeems sinners by the loving sacrifice of His Son and seals them until the day of redemption by His indwelling Spirit. We'd both exalt preaching and discover more enjoyment of it if we understood preaching and listening to be acts of praise.

If I'm correct that these are the things that increase enjoyment of prayer and preaching, then it should be obvious why an entertainment ethos in public gatherings is so spiritually destructive. Entertainment widdles all of these things down to nothing. Entertainment comes along and says, "You shouldn't work that hard to find enjoyment in something. This should be easier. Make me feel without having to listen, think, argue or reflect." And when the voice of entertainment wins, it redefines praise as anything but listening, thinking, following arguments, reflecting and applying. The Christian interested in anything but listening, thinking, following arguments, reflecting and applying simply will not grow, will not be rooted in the faith, will not study the word, will not do hard things for God, will not suffer, will not rejoice in suffering, will not suffer with others, will not sacrifice, will not face death and rejection for the gospel, will not give radically and sacrificially, will not consider going in gospel missions, will not raise their children to go in gospel missions, and will not draw necessary lines to protect the gospel and the church and fellow Christians.

It's ironic that our desire and unexamined criteria for "enjoying" the public gathering of the church may be eroding our deeper enjoyment of it. We may be like those crabs with one big claw and one little claw. We may have a big-claw, overdeveloped sense of enjoyment as near-the-surface emotional response to things that entertain (even in the best sense of that word), while having a little-claw, underdeveloped appreciation for those spiritual disciplines that require more work to produce enjoyment and fruit (things like prayer, Bible study, fasting, giving, the sacraments, and listening to the word).

Praying we all get more enjoyment out of our Lord's Day services.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Came across this comment at an otherwise interesting site: "the Church is looking at the Internet as a viable option for true Christian community." Church... internet... true Christian community. This gets the "You're kidding, right?" award for November.

Ligonier is making the video of the T4G conference available on-line for free Nov. 18-Dec. 5th. (HT: ThirstyTheologian)

Denny Burk and Ray Van Neste are asking for help to renew serious discussion about revising the ETS doctrinal statement. I'm not a member of the ETS, but from a distance this seems like a very worthwhile venture given how wide the doctrinal statement is currently. (HT: JT)

The Pyromaniacs are expanding my vocabulary. Today's word is "querulousness." Read here about how querulousness is the new honesty and why that's a bad thing.

Do you remember the "day off"? Had one of those lately? Colin points out 10 ways to ruin the day off.

Michael A. G. Haykin recently preached a chapel service at Southern called "Love for the Brothers," an argument for love as an essential mark of the church. I'm feeding my soul with that sermon today. Thank you brother Haykin! Much love!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Registration Is Open for the 2009 DG Pastors' Conference

This looks like a wonderful conference, "Commending Christ: The Pastor, the Church, and the Perishing." It's a focus on evangelism, something I've been trying to think about this year and to do more faithfully.

Piper's invitation letter deserved copying in full:

Dear friends in ministry,

As I preached my way through a series on the new birth recently, I was gripped in a new way with the place of gospel-telling in the way people are born again. The key text was 1 Peter 1:23–25: “You have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”

The implications of this are massive. People are born again through hearing the gospel. The God-wrought, sovereign miracle that no human can bring about does not happen where the gospel is not heard and known.

And what is the gospel? Basically this: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel. . . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1–4).

Telling this old story is the means God has ordained for people to be born again. This strikes me as simply amazing. Words coming out of our mouths about events in history are the way God brings about the stupendous, supernatural miracle of the new birth.

So I have set my heart on thinking and praying and dreaming about the implications of these things with you at the Desiring God Conference for Pastors. What does this imply for our lives, our prayers, our priorities, our families, our church structures, our staffing, our worship services, our hearts?

We will gather this year under the theme Commending Christ: The Pastor, the Church, and the Perishing. The focus is on evangelism—telling the gospel.

I did not have to think long about who I wanted most to lead us in this thinking, namely, Mark Dever, Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, in Washington, D. C. Mark inspires me with his personal engagement with unbelievers.

His new book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism puts his vision in writing. Just this morning, this book jolted me again (pp. 72–73): Telling my story (“testimony”) is not the same as telling Christ’s story. My story is not the gospel. Telling it is not evangelism. I am deeply thankful Mark will give the three keynote messages.

Meanwhile, I was listening (online) to Matt Chandler preach about the challenges of evangelizing church members who think they are saved but aren’t. I was moved by the insight and courage of what he said. Matt is the Lead Pastor at The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas. He has agreed to come and help us think about that issue in our churches—saving those who think they are saved.

Michael Oh is the president of Christ Bible Seminary and Institute in Nagoya, Japan. He has agreed to be bring global breadth to our theme from his strategic perspective in Japan, with its fewer than .25% Christians. When Don Carson heard that Michael was coming he wrote to me and said, “I'm so glad to hear that you have invited Michael Oh. . . . He is a remarkable young man, being used by God in ways that are wisely breaking all kinds of molds in Japan.”

In keeping with the theme of evangelism, I plan to do my biography this time on one of the most fruitful evangelists of all time, George Whitefield. Whitefield is long overdue for this kind of attention, and I am eager to immerse myself in his life and mind for my own soul and ministry. I pray that the overflow will be useful for you.

This conference is not mainly about technique or method. It is about becoming a certain kind of God-besotted lover of lost people. So I am eager to be together with you and to worship and pray and think and discuss these great matters. I hope you will come. The Great Room at the Minneapolis Convention center sounds like a mighty waterfall when 1400 pastors sing with all their hearts to the Savior they love.

The bookstore will be amazing. Conversation and prayer will be rich. Connecting with lovers of Truth strengthens the heart. We all be reminded that we plant and water, but God gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). And nothing done in his name is in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

With affection and joy,

I would commend the conference and Piper's new book on the new birth, Finally Alive, when it's released.

This Changes Everything, Doesn't It?

Like a lot of people, I was struck by a comment that bro. John Piper made during a video interview commenting on the then-upcoming election. He listed abortion as one of the complicating factors for him during the election, an issue we all know he cares passionately about and is defining in his voting choices.

But what struck me was the comment in response to the oft heard concern that if we don't end abortion in the U.S. then God will judge the country. Piper replied, "abortion is the judgment of God against the country."

Now, that changes everything, doesn't it?

Romans 1:18 reads, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and the wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness...." In verses 24, 26, and 28, Paul states that "God gave them over" to the sinful desires of their hearts, to shameful lusts, and "to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done." This wrath is being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness, and this wrath being revealed is the continuation in the wickedness and sin that suppresses the truth; it is God giving the unregenerate and unrepentant over to the very sins in which they delight (v. 32).

If the continuation of abortion in the U.S. and other places is God's righteous wrath being revealed from heaven, the question for me isn't which president or which judges are appointed. Not in the first place. Those things matter. But if I take seriously the truth that God's wrath is being revealed in the practice of abortion itself, the question becomes, "How do we turn back God's wrath?"

Presidential elections and the appointment of judges don't do that. Don't get me wrong. Those are necessary and important strategies in the fight. But they are secondary at best if what needs to be satisfied is the wrath of God.

If we take seriously the idea that God's wrath is being revealed in the continuance of abortion itself (and one might add, as Paul does: idolatry, homosexuality, envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice, people who are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful, disobedient to parents, the senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless), our primary strategy and activity and hopes must be expressed in a faithful ministry of intercession and gospel proclamation.

It seems to me that every time the nation Israel went off the rails, the holy men of old did two things: They prayed and they preached. They prayed and they preached.

Consider how often Moses interceded on behalf of the people when their sin rose up before the Lord (for example, Num. 11:1-2; 12; 14; 16; 21:4-9). Moses deserves to be known as "Moses the Intercessor," and we should make diligent study of his life of intercessory prayer. Or consider Ezra's prayer for the people because of their sinful intermarriage with pagan nations leading to unfaithfulness (Ezra 9). When the people faced God's hot displeasure and wrath, the godly gave themselves to intercession in recognition of the fact that only God can relent of His wrath, and only His satisfaction makes such relenting possible.

Which brings us to preaching. Of all the things we must do, preaching the gospel and sharing the gospel and writing about the gospel and praying the gospel on behalf of those perishing in God's wrath must be primary. The gospel is that message of how God himself satisfies His righteous demands and wrath by the atoning sacrifice of His Son for the sins of men. Christ Jesus propitiates the Father. He satisfies the Father's wrath. And the Father raised Christ from the dead as proof that His satisfaction was met and sacrifice accepted. Now those in Christ Jesus by repentance and faith "wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1 Thes. 1:10).

Indeed, "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation"(Rom. 5:9-11).

Never again ought a Christian act as though the appointment of a human official will stay the wrath and judgment of God. Never again ought we to act as though another mediator may turn away the Father's righteous anger toward sin. I don't say that we should abandon the work of appointing officials who will protect life. But have we not in some measure been acting as though some appointments could delay or stay God's wrath against ungodliness and wickedness?

I think we have. And, forgive me for presuming, but I think we need to repent.

And we need to begin the work of broken-hearted intercession and the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ who on Calvary's cross bore the wrath of God for all who will turn to Him in faith, fleeing the coming destruction and running to Christ our Refuge and Strength and Strong Tower and Ark of safety. We haven't nearly begun the Church-wide work of prayer and preaching that is needed to see the worldwide repentance and faith necessary to stay the coming and present wrath of God "against all the godlessness and the wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness."

I've read in a couple places Christians vowing to oppose Obama during his entire presidency. Forgive me, but I think that's misplaced energy. We need the bulk of our energy invested in beseeching the Lord of Glory to relent of His destruction upon the nation and to extend the work of His Spirit in the conversion of wicked men, including all those up to the president who have a hand in supporting this slaughter.

Our work is primarily prayer and preaching, intercession and gospel proclamation. Those alone will turn back the wrath of God. Let's get started.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Practical Help on a Practical Issue: Visiting the Sick

People are rarely more aware of eternity than when they're on their deathbeds. This makes hospital visitation and visiting those who are sick a most important aspect of the Christian ministry. Yet, many pastors, sometimes myself included, would rather not be engaged in this vital work. We find ourselves awkward, unsure of what to say, hesitant about saying the wrong things--all of which are the after shocks of having our self-reliance exposed. If you're paying attention, hospital visitation is sanctifying in that way.

Well, my good friend, Brian Croft, the faithful pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, has written a very practical and helpful book called Visit the Sick: Ministering God's Grace in Times of Illness. In a short 128 pages, and with highly readable style, Brian covers all the ground: biblical, theological, pastoral and practical.

Table of Contents


1. Biblical Considerations

2. Theological Considerations

3. Pastoral Considerations

4. Practical Considerations

5. Conclusion


A Note to Pastors

Appendix 1 - Checklist

Appendix 2 - Spiritual Conversation

Appendix 3 - FAQ

Appendix 4 - 'Sickness' by J.C. Ryle (Abridged Version)

Further Information and Help


A Couple of Well-Deserved Endorsements

"What do pastors do when visiting the sick? Such visits are crucial both eternally and pastorally. Brian Croft has written a marvellous piece to assist us. His work is theologically grounded, gospel centered and full of practical wisdom. I recommend it enthusiastically."

--Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Teaching Pastor, Clifton Baptist Church

"Every pastor--and many other church leaders as well--will visit the sick. Some feel that their visits are fruitful times of ministry; others feel very awkward. Very, very few, however, have the intuitive people skills and the pastoral experience to do this successfully without some training. Brian Croft's book provides concise, wise and practical instruction for this important aspect of ministry. Read it for yourself, study it as a staff or use it as a training resource for all those in your church who regularly visit the sick. It can help turn a routine responsibility into a time of effective ministry."

--Donald Whitney, Associate Pastor of Biblical Spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; President, The Center for Biblical Spirituality; and author, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life

"Brian Croft has served us all well in providing a succinct, thoughtful training manual for hospital visitation. Church member, let this book equip you to become more useful to those in your church who are ailing. Young pastor, gain from Brian's practical wisdom. Let him train you to love and serve your congregation in a way that will adorn your preaching (and help you avoid awkward mistakes). Seasoned pastor, let this book remind you of the privilege it is to serve and encourage the sick in a fallen world. I plan to read it together with my elders, and hope to make it available to my congregation as an equipping tool."

--Paul Alexander, Senior Pastor, Fox Valley Bible Church, St. Charles, Illinois; and co-author of The Deliberate Church.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Yesterday, I had a wonderful evangelistic lunch with a young man who has been coming to church regularly. He is a transparent man with no guile. He mentioned that he sometimes reads the Bible and finds parts difficult to understand. This morning I'm reminded of two comments Grudem makes about the Scripture's clarity:
The New Testament writers frequently state that the ability to understand Scripture rightly is more a moral and spiritual than an intellectual ability: "The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts (literally 'things') of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14; cf. 1:18-3:4; 2 Cor. 2:14-16; 4:3-4, 6; Heb. 5:14; James 1:5-6; 2 Peter 3:5; cf. Mark 4:11-12; John 7:17; 8:43). Thus, although the New Testament authors affirm that the Bible in itself is written clearly, they also affirm that it will not be understood rightly by those who are unwilling to receive its teachings. Scripture is able to be understood by all unbelievers who will read it sincerely seeking salvation, and by believers who will read it while seeking God's help in understanding it. This is because in both cases the Holy Spirit is at work overcoming the effects of sin, which otherwise will make the truth appear to be foolish (1 Cor. 1:18-25; 2:14; James 1:5-6, 22-25).

In order the summarize this biblical material, we can affirm that the Bible is written in such a way that all things necessary for our salvation and for our Christian life and growth are very clearly set forth in Scripture. Although theologians have sometimes defined the clarity of Scripture more narrowly (by saying, for example, only that Scripture is clear in teaching the way of salvation), the texts cited above apply to many different aspects of biblical teaching and do not seem to support any such limitation on the areas to which Scripture can be said to speak clearly. It seems more faithful to those biblical texts to define the clarity of Scripture as follows: The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God's help and being willing to follow it. Once we have stated this, however, we must also recognize that many people, even God's people, do in fact misunderstand Scripture. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine, pp. 51-52).

After our really good lunch meeting, I returned to a pre-marital counseling session with a young couple, the young lady being a very young Christian. What joy it was for to hear her excitedly exclaim, "Everything I am called to do as a wife is so clearly written right here in Scripture! I didn't know that. This is all so new to me but it is all so very clear!"

Then in our evening devotions last night (John 8:21-39), my oldest daughter asked why the people didn't understand Jesus when it seemed so clear to her.

It all reminded me of Matthew 11:25-26 and 13:11-17, 34-35.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Living with Hurricanes

That's what you do in the Caribbean for about six months out of the year. You live with the prospect of violent winds and rains blowing over your family, home, and country. Though tracking models are helpful, they don't finally predict where the storms will go or what damage they may do.

This past weekend, Hurricane Paloma took a direct line for Grand Cayman. But on its approach, it tacked a bit east and instead rendered a direct hit to one of our sister islands, Cayman Brac. In God's matchless kindness, there was no loss of life. But about 90% of the buildings on the island were seriously damaged or destroyed. Most accounts suggest that this is the worst storm to hit the Brac since the 1932 storm which took life and property. Churches, government, and relief agencies are in high gear clearing the damage, evacuating victims, and restoring essential services. Pray for those in authority over us and those who serve in times of disaster and day-to-day.

How are Christians to think of such things? How are we to respond in the face of devastation? Those are the questions asked by many left dumbfounded by the storm and other major events in the life of the island. There was the recent scandal of a five-year-old girl sexually abused by two men. And there was the gruesome murder of a very popular women's rights advocate that shook everyone in the country. Over the past few weeks I've contemplated these things and the Lord keeps drawing me back to His words in Luke 13:1-9.

Two Disasters

In verses 1 and 4 Jesus responds to two major disasters. The Galileans were slain by Pilate and had their blood mixed with sacrifices. The tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen people. In the former event, you have unspeakable moral evil perpetrated against others made in the image of God. In the latter, a seemingly random catastrophe not the moral fault of anyone in particular.

Jesus anticipates the question: Whose sin caused these things? And His response is direct and surprising. Of all the things the Son of God could have said:
1. A divine treatise on suffering;
2. A theological explanation of the Fall and its relation to natural catastrophe;
3. A treatise on how God appoints the times and seasons of men, giving and taking life according to His own inscrutable will...

He looks squarely at His audience and says "I tell you, No! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." Whether the evil is a gross moral sort, or whether the destruction seems to us random and unexplained, the message is the same: repent.

Why this one statement? Why repent or perish?

Well, I don't think Jesus means that the failure to repent is a sin that will cause in a one-to-one fashion a calamity to befall his audience. He's just finished saying that that is not the case with the slaughter of the Galileans or the tower in Siloam. So, he's not offering a cosmic retribution plan, or some kind of karma-repentance system.

And I don't think He is necessarily pointing to any individual sins in the life of the people before Him. Undoubtedly there are individual sins for them to turn from, but again there is not a 1-to-1 correlation here.

And I don't think He is saying that the exact same things will come upon His hearers, as though their failure to repent when they heard the news of the tower means they will one day find themselves in a tower that collapses and kills them. If that were the case, we'd expect that we all would have died a long time ago for our failure to repent when we learned of some gruesome event in the news or through friends.

Well, what does the Son of God our Savior mean?

What are we to learn and understand when calamity comes? How are we to interpret hurricanes, accidents on Russian nuclear submarines, the AIDS pandemic in Africa, persecution of Christians in Orissa and elsewhere, or the people of Cuba being struck by three sizable hurricanes in as many months?

First, our future may not be different from theirs. That is, suddenly, like a thief in the night, the unsuspecting and falsely assured may be overrun with the flooding judgment of God. We may be marrying and giving in marriage, we may be celebrating as though tomorrow is promised, we may be continuing in life thinking we have no need of God, when God shows up in a disaster.

Second, I think this repentance is a repentance from a general way of life, a routine-loving practical atheism. We journey through life making plans, making decisions, and taking actions as though the world will continue and God need not be consulted. We take for granted that catastrophes will not happen; we presume upon God their our lives will be "normal." And our "normal" lives are so often lived without a conscious and abiding awareness of God and our dependence upon Him. I think Jesus is calling the people to turn out of that old way of self-reliant idolatry into a life of faith. A life where in all our ways we trust and acknowledge Him, and He directs our paths. A life of walking by faith, not by sight. It's a complete and consuming turning.

Third, Jesus is calling us to a life of fruitfulness. That's the point of the parable in verses 6-9. See the landowner's patience and forbearance with the unfruitful tree as the farmer intercedes. So it is with all those on whom calamity has not yet fallen. God has been gracious and patient. Intercession on their behalf has been given, and the Father extends yet more time. Yet not without limit. Verse 9: "If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down." One day the Father's patience will have reached its full, and then comes His righteous judgment--suddenly, like a thief in the night. So, before the dawn of that day, all men everywhere are called to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, to enter as branches into union with the Vine and bear fruit that remains. A life disconnected from the Source of all life, disconnected from Christ the King, is a fruitless life not worthy of the soil its planted in (v. 7). So, repent and enter into fruitful life with and in Christ.

The calamities we see around us are inbreaking calls to repentance and a life lived more fully aware of God and His mercy. Luther pointed out that the Christian life is a life of continuing repentance, continuing turning to God. And one means God uses to issue that call is calamity. And if we heed such troublesome events, then we'll find daily reminders to turn afresh to God with a full heart.

Some thoughts on how to turn calamity into a more consciously-dependent and joyful walk with God.

1. Let the news of terrible events cause you to stop. I'm really troubled with my hard heart in the face of such news. If you're like me, you may say, "Oh, that's a shame," or "Oh, my Lord" when you hear of disastrous news. But then you may move on with your life moments after uttering such words. There may be little feeling, or fleeting feeling, attached to your recognition of the disaster. I need to stop and meditate upon the pain, loss, suffering, and agony of a husband who just learned his wife is the brutally murdered and charred remains found by the police. I need to stop and try to feel and understand what it must be like to have winds rip the roof off your house, rains pour in from above, and five feet of sea water rust through below. What must it feel like to come out into the sunshine the morning after the hurricane and see your entire country tossed like so much litter all around you? For calamity to work repentance and fruit in our lives, we have to first feel them. So, we have to stop and ponder.

Obviously, we can't stop at every event, else we be emotionally paralyzed. But there are enough around us each day to consider and benefit from spiritually. So we really stop at any of them?

2. Let the disaster humble us. It's a cliche but it's true: "There but for the grace of God go you or I." There's nothing like a threatening hurricane to prove the truth of this. Often we pray the Lord would turn the storm. And often He does. And when the storm passes we're then aware that it turned toward another country, another people. Our sense of relief is mixed with pity and sorrow for others. There but for the grace of God. But if we're to benefit, we have to move beyond the cliche and humble ourselves before the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. We must search ourselves for self-reliance, willful pride, practical atheism. We must commit to God our lives and plans afresh. We must banish the thought of entering into the day or living throughout the day without the Lord's leading, ruling, guiding, providing, protecting, securing, blessing, strength, and joy. If we stop long enough, calamities may break the back of our pride and send us afresh to God in joyful dependence.

3. Let the disaster point us to Christ Jesus, His work and grace. There is no suffering that Christ has not tasted. He is not an unsympathetic High Priest. Rather, He is the Great High Priest who has entered into our flesh, taken up our lives, been tempted in every way as we have yet without sin, and tasted death for every man. Have we been touched by murder? So has the Father as He watched His Son--yes, gave His Son!--to be murdered by sinful men. Have we been touched by homelessness? Christ Jesus, the one who upholds all creation by the power of His word, entered His creation with no place to lay His head, even though foxes and birds did. He lived a vagabond life, His family on the run from a king who would kill babies, and He dodging the murderous plots of religious men until His time had come. And what abandonment and suffering as He bore the Father's wrath in the place of sinners on Calvary's cross. Can there be a greater disaster than the Son of God's execution? But then He rose! He defeated death and the grave, the Father accepted His sacrifice on our behalf, and we through faith have been united with Him in death and in resurrected life. The disaster was the signal event pointing to His triumph! When Jesus say "repent" to questioners inquiring about indescribable disaster, He is preparing them and us to see God's redemptive triumph in the "disaster" of the cross. He's preparing us to recognize in His sacrifice our need to turn from the old life of sin and enter into eternal life of love with Him.

4. Let the disaster cause you to tell others the Good News. The gospel isn't' meant to be bottled in our hearts and minds and placed in a wine cellar for select use on special occasions. The gospel is meant to be poured in earthen jars and offered to all the thirsty. What will we do when we stop long enough to feel the pain of tragedy around us? What will we do when that tragedy humbles us and brings us to God in repentant dependence? What shall we do when we look upon our Savior the resurrected Lamb and His work for us? God be merciful to us if we don't explode in gospel love onto those around us! This good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sins and raised to life should cause an explosion that leaves gospel debris all over our neighborhoods, workplaces, family and friends. We are to go serve as ambassadors and relief workers--not for the Red Cross or Samaritan's Purse, as wonderful as those groups are. We're to go serve as ambassadors for Christ, bringing relief from the King of kings and announcing a kingdom whose foundations cannot be shaken, against which the gates of Hades will not prevail, and into which the repentant and believing may have abundant entrance.

For several weeks, it's been all presidential politics, community organization to fight violence against women, and a host of other earthbound things. And though we haven't known it and wouldn't have asked for it, we've needed a reminder to turn to God. May the Lord help us to repent at calamity, appropriate the good news with a fresh soft heart, and give to everyone we meet.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Living Soli Deo Gloria Under an Obama Presidency

Eric Redmond's thoughts here.

Where Were You...

When history was made with the election of America's first African-American president?

I was in an elders' meeting until about 11:45pm and missed all the election night activities. I think perhaps my time was better spent than most. But for those like me who missed the presidential acceptance speech, a video of the full speech is here?

So where were you when Sen. Barack Obama became President-Elect of the United States?