Monday, May 26, 2008

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

The New Attitude messages are being uploaded here. I'm particularly interested to hear C.J.'s first talk, The Troubled Soul: God's Word and Our Feelings.

Memorial Day reflections from...
Noel Piper
And here's a video history of the Memorial Day holiday from MSN.

Dan, a charismatic, is bashing charismatics. Here and here.

Taking a family vacation this summer? C.J. has seven lessons to consider:
1. A Servant Heart
2. A Tone-Setting Attitude
3. An Awareness of Indwelling Sin
4. Studying Your Family
5. Skillful Surprises
6. Intentionally Together
7. Gratefulness to God

Two quick daily reads to add to your routine:
Of First Importance
22 Words

Tenth Pres has a spiritual health survey. Collin provides the word file and sample.

Challies reflects on "Six Ways to Hinder Your Prayers." Good stuff (HT: UW).

Dan Phillips, whom I had the joy of meeting at the Band of Bloggers discussion, has a two-part series on penal substitution in Proverbs. Check it out here and here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Stephen Nichols, an excellent and winsome historian, recently visited a Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lancaster (named after "Mother Bethel", the founding church for the first African American denomintation). He took his class and made a few observations over at Ref21. Here's his last question:

"And, if you're white--or as Bono once said "almost pink"--like I am and you never visited a predominantly African American church, what are you waiting for?"

A couple books by Nichols that you should read if you haven't:

A Conversation You Don't See Every Day But Probably Should

Ed Stetzer interview Mark Dever at Whiteboard.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sunday Is Coming

Imagine falling into a coma and waking 30 years later. Imagine shaking off the slumber and asking, "What's going on with the church?" What do you suppose would be the answers?

Brother Lance is doing a little imagining that you might find interesting.

For My Soul This Morning...

I've been enjoying the following sermons:

John Piper:
Body Pains: Feelings of Uselessness

Body Pains: Feelings of Self-Sufficiency

Mark Dever
Overview of 1 Corinthians

"Will You Be Engaged to Me?"

Who asks a woman that? "Will you be engaged to me?" Sounds a little impermanent, a little non-commital.

But today, that stud and his wife have been married thirty years and many of us have had our own marriages and lives enriched because of them.

Happy anniversary C.J. and Carolyn!! May the Lord continue to keep you, bless you, and crown your life with joy in Christ!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Do You Know the One NT Figure Mentioned in the Book of Hebrews?

That was how Sinclair Ferguson started chapter 45 of his wonderful mediation on the Christian life, In Christ Alone.

Do you know?

I didn't either. But Sinclair gave 5 clues, by the third I was relatively sure. It is Timothy. In his meditation on Timothy's life and ministry based on one passing statement in Hebrews 13, Ferguson provides some helpful insights on pastoral leadership and Christian discipleship. I pray it stirs, encourages, instructs, helps, challenges and strengthens you as it did me.

(By the way, need a photographer? Check out Lukas VanDyke. Bro got skills)
The reference to Timothy helps to illustrate a theme that runs through Hebrews 13--the characteristics of true leaders and the attitude we are to develop and maintain with respect to them: "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7, ESV); "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Heb. 13:17, ESV).

In his relationship with Paul, Timothy exemplified the disposition of a follower: he remembered him, observed the fruit of his faith, and imitated it. He submitted gladly to Paul's leadership, thankful for his spiritual father and for Paul's willingness to take spiritual responsibility for him and to mentor him. This was why--in words that Hebrews echoes (Heb. 13:17)--for Paul the leader to see Timothy his disciple was to be "filled with joy" (2 Tim. 1:4).

It is thus that true leaders are generally formed and developed. When leaders have never been led--not merely at the formal level, but in the sense of a heart devotion and heart submission to wise and caring leadership--they are not usually well-equipped to lead others. They may even expect a submission they have never been willing to experience themselves. "After all, I was destined for leadership, not discipleship!" they may foolishly, and often disastrously, think.

Because this is the calling of leaders--so beautifully illustrated in Timothy--it is also the reason the author of Hebrews can call us to "obey" and "submit" to them. Thus, their leadership will not be a burden ("not with groaning," as the ESV expressively translates it), but a joy (Heb. 13:17).

What if all leaders in the church were like you? Are you a walking version of the letter to the Hebrews?

Have you shown heart submission to the leadership of others? Are you prepared to suffer for others, to go through trials? Perhaps you are a ruling elder. When things get tough, rough, and sore, do you simply complain, or perhaps tend to pull back a little and look to the teaching elder/pastor as though to say, "The rough ones are for you to handle?"

Most of us are church members, not church leaders. Are you a joy or a burden? What a telling question! How sad when we count--of all things--argumentativeness, a domineering spirit, an angular personality, or an ongoing motif of cynicism about other believers as grace. Have we no idea that we make our leaders groan rather than rejoice? Should we not make this one of the questions for church membership: "Will you seek to be a source of joy to your leaders?"

Timothy is a model for both disciples and leaders. He was the latter because he had learned to be the former. And once we have been both, we, too, become living letters, versions of the great letter to the Hebrews, those in whom the Lord is "working... what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13:21). And amen!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Healthy Churches and Christian Growth

From Mark Dever's Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, p. 214-215:
"A healthy church has a pervasive concern with church growth--not simply growing in numbers but growing members. A church full of growing Christians is the kind of church growth I want as a pastor. Some today seem to think that one can be a "baby Christian" for a whole lifetime. Growth is seen to be an optional extra for particularly zealous disciples. But be very careful about taking that line of thought. Growth is a sign of life. Growing trees are living trees, and growing animals are living animals. When something stops growing it dies.

"Growth may not mean that you negotiate this rapid in half the time you negotiated the last; it may simply mean that you are able to continue in the right direction as a Christian, regardless of the adverse circumstances. Remember, it is only the things that are alive that swim upstream; the dead things all float along with the current."

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Gospel in a Paragraph... and a Sentence

In a paragraph:

"The most terrifying news in the world is that we have fallen under the condemnation of our Creator and that he is bound by his own righteous character to preserve the worth of his glory by pouring out his wrath on the sin of our ingratitude. But there is a fourth great truth that no one can ever learn from nature or from their own consciences, a truth which has to be told to neighbors and preached in churches and carried by missionaries: namely, the good news that God has decreed a way to satisfy the demands of his righteousness without condemning the whole human race. He has taken it upon himself apart from any merit in us to accomplish our salvation. The wisdom of God has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God without compromising the righteousness of God. And what is this wisdom?"

In a sentence:

"Jesus Christ, the Son of God crucified, is the Wisdom of God, by which the love of God can save sinners from the wrath of God, and all the while uphold and demonstrate the righteousness of God."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Weekend Listening

This weekend, the Lord granted me the great privilege of listening to four wonderful expositions of His word. I am thankful for the word that was opened and blessed my soul!

A New Identity (John 1:1-18)
John Folmar is a dear brother and friend who grew up in a small town just minutes from my small town. We didn't know each other while growing up. We met about 4-5 years ago at CHBC where we both served as elders and staff. John is the faithful pastor at United Christian Church of Dubai. He's an exceptionally clear and penetrating preacher.

Adoption (Galatians 4:1-7)
C.J. Mahaney meditating on the doctrine of adoption while guest preaching at CHBC. Following Packer, C.J. argues that our adoption in Christ is the best way to define what it means to be a Christian.

Conversion to Christ: The Making of a Christian Hedonist (Matthew 13:44-46)
John Piper in 1983 meditating on the major theme of his ministry.

The Kingdom of Heaven Is a Treasure (Matthew 13:44)
John Piper 22 years later (2005) exhorting us to make Christ our Treasure.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Preach the Word!

Two excellent clips of Alistair Begg on preaching. Yes and yes! (HT: Colin)

The Clintons Are Bad for Race Relations

I could say more. But this says it all, I think. It's been apparent since S.C., but now it's just sad.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

PCA's African-American Ministry Project

This must be video week at PureChurch. But HT: Anthony Carter for making this exciting video regarding church planting, training, and other opportunities inside the PCA.

Mike Campbell, one of the featured pastors in the video, will be one of the keynote speakers at this year's Miami Pastor's Conference. Mark the dates: November 6-8, 2008 at Glendale Baptist Church in Miami.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Waaaayyy Overdue Awards

Man... this is overdue. When the Jeremiah Wright stuff broke, we had a little contest at Pure Church. We posted the audio to Wright's "Confusing God and Government" sermon and invited folks to do a sermon review/critique. The folks with the "most edifying comments" were offered a copy of either The Faithful Preacher or The Decline of African American Theology.

With my sincerest regrets for this tardy announcements, I'm happy to mention the following winners (who were winners in Christ long before this little exercise!):

Wyeth Duncan
Celucian Joseph
Steven Dresen

If you all will drop me an email with your mailing address and your choice of books, I'll get those right out to you. Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

Are You In Tune with How God Motivates Us?

John Piper offering some helpful encouragements.

Don't Waste Your Pulpit; Don't Waste Your Child's Education

Thanks Justin for these two videos.

Josh Harris on gospel humility shown toward others who make different education decisions than we make.

John Piper exhorting us not to waste our pulpits.

I'm really thankful for the way Josh used his pulpit, his pastoral comments, to encourage his people not to waste their gospel opportunity to think more highly of others than themselves. Excellent pastoral work for us to study and apply.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Be Careful How You Build: A Plea for Boring Preaching

While washing up the dishes with my wife the other night, conversation turned again to the U.S. presidential election and the whole Obama-Wright thing. As we discussed Wright's "performance," another lesson learned long ago and taught by many long before me came back to mind: be careful how you build a church. Humanly speaking, whatever you do to build the church is what you'll have to do to keep the church.

It's another cautionary lesson for pastors.

If you saw either the Detroit speech or the Press Club event, the first thing that probably struck you was Wright's delivery. His gestures and posture and for lack of a better word "theatrics," all made the scene quite entertaining or macabre depending on your perspective.

Wright employed his pulpit persona on a national stage set for reflection, analysis, and discussion. I wondered if he had been so accustomed to preaching as public speaking that he was unable to find a different (more appropriate?) mode of address for these venues.

Wright has built a large church and following with this pulpit persona. Whatever you think of what he's saying, he is engaging. Any time you can begin a sentence about a preacher with "whatever you think he's saying," you know you have a problem--engaging or not. The danger of building a church on exaggerated personality seems to be at least two-fold.

First, it traps the preacher in the entertainment expectations of so many churchgoers. If we entertain rather than edify, we're not far from becoming the little monkey in the red suit that does tricks on the street corner for his owner. And it's awfully difficult to escape that arrangement once you start building the pulpit on an exaggerated personality like that. The pressure to "perform" is already great in many African American contexts. A man can "preach" if he can excite emotion and response. But if he calmly and clearly opens the text, then he is "a good teacher." Culturally, African Americans have always placed great value in oratory. So much so, emotional oratory has become to litmus test for preaching.

One young man approached me at T4G feeling the weight of this pressure from people attending his church. They want him to 'hoop; he wants to feed them meat. Two dear brothers have been called "black white preachers" because they are committed expositors (with fire I might add). But exposition belongs to "whiteness" in the minds of too many, and the preacher is potentially tempted toward or enslaved by the pressure to entertain.

The second danger of building on personality is the congregation gets very accustomed to two things: feeling as the end of worship and lazy listening as the means of worship. If we entertain people rather than instruct and edify, we will create a body of people who want the fleeting feelings of a moment rather than the meat of the word. They will want a glitzy god rather than the glorious God of Scripture. They will not think they have "worshipped" or served God until they have felt something or been moved in some way. That's emotionalism, not genuine emotion that comes from the truth.

And a congregation accustomed to being entertained will be a spiritually lazy congregation. Entertainment increasingly puts the cookies on the bottom shelf (actually the floor). It makes everything easy to reach, requires little/nothing of the one entertained, and encourages comfort and ease. In short, today's entertainment generally makes people lazy. The same is true in a church if entertainment is the dominant philosophy. People are not made into Bereans, searching the Scripture to verify the truth. They're reduced to blank-faced popcorn and goober eating moviegoers, taking in whatever glimmers on the silver screen. Except the silver screen is increasingly the church service.
So here's a plea. Please, please Lord build your church on "boring" preaching and "regular" personalities owned and fired by your Holy Spirit, so that your people will find excitement and emotion that comes from the truth and their affections will rest on You rather than the earthen vessel that proclaims your Name.

And please, please brothers, let us be "weak" in the pulpit that Christ might be seen as strong. Let us preach in the personality the Lord gave us, only careful not to build the church on it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Church Unity

9Marks is taking us to school on church unity. The new ejournal is out and it's loaded with some excellent contributions.

Living As A Church: A short class on living together as a local church.

If you’ve never provided your congregation with an opportunity to meditate together on what it means to live together as a church, we hope you’ll take a look at this material. Teach it yourself; let a young man you’re discipling teach it; or let it prompt you to write your own class.
Class I: Introduction
Class II: Church Membership
Class III: Preaching
Class IV: Corporate Prayer
Class V: Church Government
Class VI: Fellowship
Class VII: Discontentment
Class VIII: Church Leadership
Class IX: Church Discipline
Class X: Encouragement
Class XI: Serving and Giving
Class XII: Worship
Class XIII: Corporate Evangelism

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves? By Brad Wheeler

The Living Church by John Stott
Reviewed by Jonathan Leeman

The Hip Hop Church: Connecting with the Movement Shaping Our Culture
By Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson
Reviewed by Thabiti Anyabwile

The Market-Driven Church: The Worldly Influence of Modern Culture on the Church in America
By Udo W. Middlemann
Reviewed by Mike McKinley

They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations
By Dan Kimball
Reviewed by Kevin McFadden


Life and Preaching with Kent Hughes
Date: 3/26/2008
Proud to be a Protestant? R. Kent Hughes, pastor emeritus at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, discusses with Mark Dever his 40 years of pastoral ministry.

Anglicanism and Evangelicalism with Phillip Jensen
Date: 4/30/2008
Phillip Jensen discusses Australian Anglicanism, dealing with success, his lack of regard for the academy, training ministers, and more.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Two Perspectives: Black and White

Recently, I've had the joy of rediscovering personal memoirs. I haven't read them much over the years, but of late the Lord has encouraged me greatly through memoirs, journals and letters.

I want to recommend two such volumes to those who may be interested, and as an easy entry into this field of literature for the uninitiated. More importantly, I also want to recommend them because they both give us "outsider" glimpses into our experiences in the church. The allow us to walk in another man's moccasins for a season, and to mine truths and perspectives that may lie hidden to us otherwise. In one volume, we receive an African-American's take on what it's like to be "the only one" inside white evangelical churches and organizations. In the second volume, we get a white American's perspective on what it's like to be "the only one" inside an otherwise all-black congregation. Great reads all the way around.

The first I've recommended before: Ed Gilbreath, Reconciliation Blues. Gilbreath does a masterful job of capturing the hopes and disappointments, opportunities and failures experienced by many African Americans inside predominantly white evangelical churches and organizations. His writing swims and like every good memoir carries the reader through the range of recollections and experiences of the writer. If you serve in a predominantly white setting, please read Gilbreath. He'll help you better understand and more relentlessly love African Americans in your context.

The second book I picked up last weekend and read in about two days. It's Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line. Jonathan is a white brother from King, N.C. (Surry County, not far from my own hometown). He grew up in the rural south, attended school in Germany, Eastern in Philadelphia, and Duke Divinity in Durham. Hearing an African American pastor preach during a high school meeting cracked open a door to a world of Christian experience he'd never known. The rest of his life has been in one way or another an attempt to enter that world as a genuine expreission of Christian love and unity. Jonathan takes us with him on this journey in a lucid, quick moving, and engaging way. Once he and his wife settled in Durham, N.C. (another city I've spent a lot of time in and about), they decided to join a predominantly African-American church in a historically Black neighborhood. We don't have nearly enough memoirs of this sort, partly because it seems that not many white brothers and sisters have done with Wilson-Hartgrove and his wife have done (join a black church). But it's a great look at the African-American church, not from the distance of an "interested observer," but up close from the perspective of one trying to understand her from inside and with a commitment to stay. Not every reader will agree with the bits of politics and theology in the middle of the book, but I trust every reader will be challenged by the evident love and commitment shown on most every page. An excellent memoir well worth reading, especially by those who serve in a predominantly black context and have the joy of welcoming brothers and sisters from other backgrounds.
Part of what I love about both books is the honesty of the authors. Neither book is romantic, even if the authors allow themselves to dream about possibilities. There is great humor in both, even in the face of real pains and hurts. The books are human and, therefore, useful. Read and enjoy!