Saturday, October 31, 2009

Are Small Groups for White People?

Now there's a question I would have never thought to ask. But the folks here are asking it and interviewing some who say, "Yes!"

It's a brief article; give it a read. What do you think?

I'm certain I'd disagree with some of the positions taken by folks at this church. Think female elders, for example. But even though I would never have thought to ask this question, now that it's been asked, I'd have to agree with the opening observation: I don't know many ethnic churches with vibrant small group efforts or much emphasis on small groups. I have some suspicions as to why, but first I'd be interested in your take.

Are small groups for white people?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are You Coming to T4G?

I hope you are. It's going to be a feast on and in the word of God! If you're thinking of coming, remember that the "early bird registration" lasts until Saturday. A snippet to whet the spiritual thirst:

Together for the Gospel: T4G 2010 Conference from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Register here.

What Is a Christian?

Sometimes answering the basic questions helps us see larger issues more clearly. Take for example the issue of church membership. There's a fair amount of ink spilled on that topic by folks arguing for and against membership. And it can seem like an odd thing to assert or deny if you start at the question of membership itself. But if you go back to basics, the answer seems much simpler and clearer, at least to me.

Take for example this quote from James V. Brownson's The Promise of Baptism: An Introduction to Baptism in Scripture and the Reformed Tradition. He's answering the question, "What is a Christian?" Brownson first talks about what it means to be an individual Christian:

So Christians are disciples, followers of Jesus who seek to learn and to grow, and who live their lives trusting that God has called and chosen them before they even made their own choice to become disciples. They are thus deeply aware of God's kindness and grace which precedes and empowers their own commitment to Christ. Disciples live by faith, trusting in this grace as the foundation for their lives. (p. 5-6)

He then moves on to consider the wonderful truth about our union Christ, summing up this way: "Christians are always learning and growing toward becoming in their daily lives the kind of persons that they already are in their union with Christ." (p. 7)

Finally, he draws out the corporate implications of what it means to be an individual Christian united to Christ:

Up to this point, we have been discussing what it means to be a Christian. But in a very real sense, there is no such thing as an individual Christian. When God joins Christians to Jesus, God also joins them to something bigger than themselves; they become incorporated into the church, the "body of Christ." In the New Testament, it is inconceivable for Christians to think of themselves as united to Christ without also thinking about the ways they are united to other Christians. This was true even in Jesus' own ministry. He didn't have one disciple; He had twelve, and many more beyond his "inner circle." Almost all of the learning of Jesus' disciples took place as a group, rather than one-on-one interactions with Jesus. This same pattern continued in the early church, as Christians gathered in groups called ekklesiai (the Greek word for "churches," which can also be translated "meetings" or "assemblies"). From the beginning, it was unimaginable that someone might become a Christian without also becoming part of a church, a local gathering of disciples of Jesus. The union with Christ experienced by Christians also unites them to each other. (p. 7)

If we're clear on what the thing is, we're clearer on subsequent questions. If we know what a Christian is beyond "my personal relationship with Jesus," then we're likely to be clearer on the nature and necessity of church membership. I wonder if those who oppose church membership aren't guilty of not having thought enough about what it basically means to be a Christian.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grace for Mark McGwire?

I appreciated this post from Mockingbird on the return of Mark McGwire to major league baseball as a batting coach. I wonder if you agree?

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

The Buzzard Blog is circling prey again. This time he's giving some good thoughts in "3 Truths That Change Your Life."

Fifteen Years of Faithfulness. It was a great treat to join the saints at CHBC this weekend to celebrate Mark Dever's 15th year at the church and to give God thanks for all He has done there in that time. God in His kindness has sent 27 pastors to at least five countries from CHBC in 15 years. That's not counting all the interns and staff persons who are faithfully serving in other ways. May the Lord greatly magnify Himself with more fruit and make all our ministries as fruitful in their own right. Here's a post and video from one member. (HT: Gospel Coalition)

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. A very funny, insightful, and educational look at the Confederate subculture of the South. Also a decent overview of some Civil War facts and fiction. I thought the war was over, but apparently it's still being fought in some quarters. The title suggests the book might be mocking, but it turns out to be a rather warm outsiders (author Tony Horowitz is Jewish) look into what's inside things like Civil War re-enactments, Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, and other such things. Very good read, including some provocative concluding chapters examining the current state of "race" relations in Civil War and Civil Rights battleground states.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology

What a tremendous privilege it was to participate in 2008's Together for the Gospel conference, and to attend in 2006. Both of these events have had sizable impacts on my life and ministry, and I'm very much looking forward to attending next year as well. I hope you'll be there and bring a team from your church.

In advance of T4G 2010, you may now get a copy of the book, Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology, which features the talks from the conference along with a very helpful addendum from Greg Gilbert called "What Is the Gospel?"

Publisher's Description:
Loving, teaching, and rightly dividing the Word of God is every pastor’s privilege and responsibility. If a pastor understands what the Word says about God, man, and the curse, about Christ and his substitutionary atonement, and about the call to repentance and sacrifice, he will develop and preach a sound theology. And sound theology is, in the words of J. Ligon Duncan, essential to faithful pastoral ministry.

Proclaiming a theology that is centered on Christ’s atonement is especially critical, for by this atonement, Christians have been brought from death to life, and by it a church lives or dies. In this penetrating sequel to Preaching the Cross, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and Thabiti Anyabwile join authors Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C. J. Mahaney, and Albert Mohler in exploring the church’s need for faithful proclamation and calling pastors and churches to cross-centered, scripturally saturated thinking

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Back in the Day...

Fifty pounds and 20 years ago... when I was in my prime... I still couldn't do this... not even close! Impressive.


Don't Nourish a Broken Heart

"Time spent nourishing a broken heart is time lost for eternity."

--John MacArthur, "Triumphantly Encouraged: The Privilige of Ministry, Part 1" (1997 Desiring God Pastor's Conference)

Knowing and Relying on the Love God Has for Us

"How do we know God loves us?" Have you ever been asked that question? Ever asked that question yourself?

One of the central tenets of Christian faith is that God loves the world He has made. He loves sinners. He loves those who have been most unlovely and unlovable. We teach this and we believe this and we try to get others to understand and accept this. But how do we know? Could it be a figment of the religious imagination?

Knowing the Love God Has for Us

No. We know this by at least two infallible things. First, God tells us of His love in His word. In the inspired and inerrant record of God's mighty acts and majestic character, the mightiest and most majestic is the disclosure of the Father's love. We know that God loves us because He says so. He has written to us of His love by His Spirit in exacting detail.

And given that God is the kind of Being that He is--perfectly good, perfectly true, perfectly righteous, perfectly just, perfectly perfect--we could stop simply at His word. What more do we need from an infallible God?

Yet, in His word, God says, "Let me prove it to you. Let me show you the depths and the beauty and the reality of my love." So, second, He demonstrates and proves His love by sending His Son for us.

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:9).

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1)

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us" (1 John 3:16a).

"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

We know God loves us because He sent His Son for us. He sent His Son for us. He sent His Son for us. He sent His Son for us.

That proves His love. He didn't send His Son for angels or animals or androids or anything else. Nor did the Father send angels or sparrows or the UPS man; He sent His one and only Son. He sent His Son for us who "were still sinners." The Father sent His Son for us so that we might live, "as an atoning sacrifice for our sins," so we "should be called the children of God!" We know the Father loves us because His Son in love laid down His life so we might see what love is and know love through Him.

What greater proof of God's love for us is there? What greater demonstration is imaginable? How might the Father make it clearer? To want more proof is not only unbelief and weakness and misery, it's blasphemy.

Here's an amazing thing: God loves us. And He has proven it in His Son.

Relying on the Love God Has for Us

And so we're called to "know and rely on the love God has for us" (1 John 4:16a).

Pitiful Christian that I am. How often do I go off forgetting the love God has for me and relying on my love for Him or relying on something else. And so, how often am I made uncertain of His love and therefore uncertain of everything because I rely on something else for God's approval and acceptance.

But knowing that His love is unshakable and that we are inseparable from His love, the Father calls us to abandon everything else and to rely on that redeeming, precious love He reveals in giving His Son for us. We are to know and rely on the love the Father has for us.

We know His love by knowing His Son. We know His love by knowing Jesus personally, by turning to Him in repentance from our sinful life lived apart from Him and trusting all that's revealed about Him in His sinless life, His sacrifice for sinners, His triumphant resurrection and ascension, His promise to pardon, His glorious return for us, and everlasting joy in His presence. We know His love by living in communion with Him through His Spirit, by listening to Him in His word, by walking in obedience to Him. These are some of the ways we know the Father loves us.

But how to rely on the Father's love? It's not less than knowing His love for us, for how can we rely on something we have no knowledge of? So we must know His love for us, but there is more. We must rely on the love the Father has for us. But how?

An analogy may help. Each day I live in reliance on my wife's love for me. What does that look like?
  • I don't worry about my wife breaking our marriage vows and commitment because I'm relying on her love for me to keep her faithful.
  • I don't worry about whether the children have been cared for, because I trust or rely on her love to care for the people and things I care for.
  • I don't worry about whether there will be a nutritious and delicious meal at home after work, because I rely on her love to show itself in providing for that need.
  • I don't doubt that in her arms I'll find comfort and consolation when I'm hurting because I know she loves me and she is there for me.
  • I don't doubt that she will talk with me for as long as we're able or I like because, relying on her love, I know she will delight to keep company with me.
  • When I put the key in the door to come inside the home, I know she is going to be there and not have abandoned me because I'm relying on her love for me.

In a million ways each day I live with reliance on my wife's love. Dimly, this points us to ways to live in reliance on the love God has for us through Christ His Son.

Relying on His love for us, we may live confident that the Father will not be unfaithful to us. "For the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does" (Ps. 33:4).

We rely on His love by leaning into God's care and provision, not worrying about our needs. "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" (Matt. 7:9-11).

We rely on the Father's love for us when we turn to Him to find comfort and the soothing of pain. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). "A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out, till He leads justice to victory" (Is. 42:3; Matt. 12:20).

We rely on the Father's love for us when we seek to meet with Him and hear His voice in prayer and Bible study. "It is written in the prophets, 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me" (John 6:45).

We rely on the Father's love for us when we trust that He will not abandon us. "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'" (Heb. 13:5).

We rely on God's love by looking to the day when we shall be delivered safely home. "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day" (2 Tim. 1:12b).

Today, know and rely on the love the Father has for you.

Related Posts:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trueman on Packer

Jim Packer and Martin Lloyd-Jones were the first two Christian authors I read as a new Christian. Packer's Knowing God and Lloyd-Jones' Great Doctrines of the Bible were formative right out of the gate. Recently, I finished Murray's two-volume biography on Lloyd-Jones and learned quite a bit more about these two men, their friendship, and their parting over the future of British evangelicalism.

So I really appreciated Carl Trueman's summary of Packer's legacy as he sees it. (HT: Westminster Bookstore)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hate TV

We should despise stereotype, slander, and prejudice wherever we find it. I hesitate to post this only because I don't want more people to watch it. But since it's on national television, I guess my not posting it want stop the spread of hate disguised as comedy.

But here's the Quizno's hot tub commercial. As a fellow human being and empathetic southerner, the "hillbilly is stupid" approach is... well... stupid. I find it offensive. What about you?

Related Posts:
One More in the Coffin of "Race"
Another Reason "Race" Makes No Sense
Mark Noll Lectures on Race, Religion and American Politics
Talking to Children About "Race"
Thabiti's Top Ten Tips for Talking About "Race"

Snagging a Helpful Post from JT

HT: Between Two Worlds

From Paul Tripp’s chapter, “War of Words,” in The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, pp. 43-44 (Justin's emphasis):

I have committed to pray three prayers each morning.

The first one is a confession: “God, I’m a man in desperate need of help this morning.”

The second prayer is, “I pray in your grace that you would send your helpers my way.”

The third prayer is, “And I pray that you would give me the humility to receive the help that comes.”

Congregation Appreciation Month, 3

I'm about to turn my attention to writing the sermon for Sunday. I'm very much looking forward to preaching Gen. 26:34-28:9, the classic text where Rebekah and Jacob conspire to steal Esau's blessing. The text is full of drama and gospel need/hope.

But I've had this growing list of things calling for attention as well. Among them, this installment of things I'm appreciating about the congregation of saints the Lord has given me to shepherd along with the other elders at FBC. I've mentioned a few things here and here. Here are a few more the Lord has brought to mind:

8. Selfless Service. The Lord commands that churches have leaders, and leaders are important. But the life of the church and the effectiveness of the church really depends on those folks who voluntarily and cheerfully serve without a title and without pay. A church is only as dynamic and powerful as the members who are willing to die to self and serve others around them. This past year, we had the sad privilege of saying goodbye to two wonderful staff persons. And the Lord blessed us with members of the church who jumped right in, working as a team, to take up the slack. Our children's and our youth ministries have continued in full swing as some agreed to lead and others agreed to play a part. For the first time in my Christian life, I heard a children's worker report to the congregation, "We don't need any more volunteers." I nearly fell down, and had to take a moment. But it's one indication of the selfless service that's going on all over the place. And I appreciate the Lord's people who give of themselves quietly and steadily for His glory.

9. Increasing Love. How sweet this is! A number of members have commented recently about how they see the Lord growing our love for one another. It's been amazing. We've seen it in everything from mourning with others, to rejoicing with others, to gently attempting to correct others, to walking together one-on-one. Fellowship groups are sprouting and flourishing: small groups, basketball and volleyball groups, men's and women's groups. And nearly all of it is the Spirit's spontaneous and natural work in the life of His people. Nothing planned, nothing programmed, just God's people being imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). And that's a delight to this pastor's soul.

10. Sacrificial Giving. Okay... everybody here will tell you I don't like to talk about money and giving. Gives me the hives. But from time to time (like during this budget season), I have to do it. And as long as I have to do it, I might as well express my deep appreciation for the way this congregation gives financially. When the worldwide economic downturn was gaining speed, by God's grace, we were celebrating the elimination of the church's debt. It was years in the coming, spanning three pastorates, resting on the generosity of many who have come and been moved elsewhere. But all the while, it was God making His people cheerful givers. This is a generous congregation, and I trust we're experiencing the promise of God to supply yet more (2 Cor. 9:6-11).

11. Burden for the Lost. I'm regularly in conversation with members about people they're burdened for, family members and friends they want to see converted and living for Christ. It's a joy to pastor people who weep over judgment and hell, and intercede for the lost. It means the eternal realities of salvation and damnation have taken root in their hearts and they are stirred with the Savior's compassion for the lost. That burden makes it easy for us as a church to see the big picture, to know that we're here not for ourselves or to build a name for ourselves or to compete with other churches. We're here to see sinners saved and rescued from the wrath to come. We're here to see the changed by the wonderful love and grace of Christ. What a joy it is to serve a people who "get that" and act on it with their prayers, conversations, and resources.

12. Loyal/Committed. Boy, I couldn't say enough about this. But this is a loyal people. I think loyalty is an important value in Caymanian culture, particularly family loyalty. And I think among God's people here at FBC that gets expressed toward the spiritual family. The folks who are here are folks who don't quit or give up easily. There is a stick-to-it-ness that comes from feeling a deep commitment to others. Folks here persevere in relationships in the church that have perhaps soured. They stick with ministries of the church that have perhaps declined in some way. They stick with their pastors and the spiritual family. Like every church, we have people that remain loosely connected and that drift out of the family. But the large heart of this church beats with the blood of loyalty to Christ Jesus and His people.

13. Faithful in Prayer. There are prayer warriors at FBC. And I appreciate them because I know that I'm the recipient of a disproportionate amount of their petitions and intercessions. Notes of prayer are constantly exchanged between the saints. Our prayer meetings are not overflowing, but those who come pray. Sunday mornings finds my little study filled with people praying down heaven on the choir, the preaching, the congregation and whatever else we're doing that day. We're increasingly bathed in prayer and we can see the Lord's answers in so many ways.

14. Engage the Sermon. Now, this is a pastor's dream: to have a people who listen attentively and interact meaningfully with the sermon. I praise God for the evidence I see of this in our spiritual family. Wednesday night a young woman asked me if I thought I could be a more faithful expositor. Earlier that day I'd had a good conversation with the staff about reading all of Scripture as Christian Scripture, seeing the Lord even in the patterns of Israel's history (Matt. 2). A couple days prior some saints emailed for a copy of Sunday's manuscript to study the text more closely. And then there are the follow questions that come by email or during our Sunday evening service where we spend a portion of our time doing Q&A in response to the morning service. I can't think of a place I'd rather preach than here with the saints at FBC. Many are appreciative of the ministry of the word, pray for our boldness in preaching, are challenged to give more of themselves to the word, and think carefully as the word is preached. I'm thankful for this because listening well when the word is taught is critical to the health of any local congregation. I praise God that we seem to be increasingly healthy in this respect.

15. Cheerful. Sometimes people serious about the word or serious about missions and evangelism become doleful people. I don't know why that happens. It sometimes happens in my own heart. But I do know the people who belong to the Lord should be the happiest people on earth. That doesn't mean God's people don't have deeply sad and unhappy things happen in their lives. But it does mean that our disposition should be generally cheerful, joyful, happy, merry. And that's what we find here by God's grace and Spirit. Bright colors, bright faces along with bright minds. The general disposition of the church is cheerfulness. And that makes the pastor's heart merry.

16. Harmony. The Lord has given us a good season of real harmony in the congregation. We're getting along, and that can't be taken for granted. Churches are called to do everything to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, live in harmony with one another. We all know the tragedy of churches not getting along, fighting over this or that issue. We've known that in our church's history. But there is a long Spirit-given harmony now, and I'm thankful that the Lord is at work producing it in us. We, like all gatherings of sinners, have a lot of things we could be bickering about. But we're not--praise God! The saints here are selfless, loving, sacrificial, loyal, prayerful, and cheerful people. What an overwhelming privilege it is to shepherd a group of people like this!


Two things make a man miserable,
Yea, three reduce him to ashes:

Knowing the truth but denying it;
Craving glory but never attaining it;
Beholding beauty and ruining it.

This is why Satan must be the most miserable creature alive, and the sinner in love with his sin not far behind. For Satan knows the truth about God, has beheld His beauty, and craves the glory of God which he can never secure. And the sinner suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, twists beauty by his lusts and darkened mind, and changes the glory of the Creator into birds and animals and other idols. Rejecting the knowledge of God leads inevitably to misery, especially the eternal misery of being shut out of His glorious presence and power (2 Thes. 1:8-10).

Related Posts:

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Lord, Please Reveal Sin."

My wife forwarded to me this brief piece of parenting wisdom from Mary Kassian:

I want to share one of the prayers that I prayed from time to time when I sensed that something was amiss in my child’s life (and this continues to this day, even now that they are young adults). The prayer was this: “Lord, Please reveal sin.” I prayed for everything hidden to be exposed by the light—and then I kept my eyes and ears open and remained spiritually attentive.

The Lord never failed to answer this prayer. Sometimes, it was extremely painful when sin was revealed—but I asked God not to hold back in exposing and dealing with sin. (P.S.: Make sure you’re willing to have Him reveal and deal with the sin in your life too!)

Read the entire post. I think we'll start to ask the Lord to do this in our lives as a family.

It's Like Christmas When You Get Books in the Mail!

I'm really looking forward to dipping into R.C. Sproul's new expositional commentary, Romans: The Righteous Shall Live By Faith from Crossway. It appears to be one title in a series called "St. Andrew's Expositional Commentary." Looks to be promising. And there are few people I'd rather hear or read on justification than R.C. Sproul.

Some Endorsements:

"'R. C. Sproul,' someone said to me in the 1970s, 'is the finest communicator in the Reformed world.' Now, three decades later, his skills honed by long practice, his understanding deepened by years of prayer, meditation, and testing (as Martin Luther counseled), R. C. shares the fruit of what has become perhaps his greatest love: feeding and nourishing his own congregation at St. Andrew's from the Word of God and building them up in faith and fellowship and in Christian living and serving. The St. Andrew's Expositional Commentary will be welcomed throughout the world. It promises to have all R. C.'s hallmarks: clarity and liveliness, humor and pathos, always expressed in application to the mind, will, and affections. R. C.'s ability to focus on the 'the big picture,' his genius of never saying too much, leaving his hearers satisfied yet wanting more, never making the Word dull, are all present in these expositions. They are his gift to the wider church. May they nourish God's people well and serve as models of the kind of ministry for which we continue to hunger."
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina

"R. C. Sproul, well-known as a master theologian and extraordinary communicator, now shows that he is a powerful, insightful, helpful expository preacher. This collection of sermons is of great value for churches and Christians everywhere."
W. Robert Godfrey, President, Westminster Seminary California

"I tell my students again and again, 'You need to buy good commentaries and do so with some discernment.'Among these commentaries there must be preacher's commentaries, for not all commentaries are the same. Some may tell you what the text means but provide little help in answering the question, 'How do I preach this text?' R. C. Sproul is a legend in our time. His preaching has held us in awe for half a century, and these pages represent the fruit of his latest exposition, coming as they do at the very peak of his abilities and insights. I am ecstatic at the prospect of reading the St. Andrew's Expositional Commentary series. It represents Reformed theology on fire, delivered from a pastor's heart in a vibrant congregation of our time. Essential reading."
Derek W. H. Thomas, John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary; Minister of Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi

"R. C. Sproul is the premier theologian of our day, an extraordinary instrument in the hand of the Lord. Possessed with penetrating insight into the text of Scripture, Dr. Sproul is a gifted expositor and world-class teacher, endowed with a strategic grasp and command of the inspired Word. Since stepping into the pulpit of St. Andrew's and committing himself to the weekly discipline of biblical exposition, this noted preacher has demonstrated a rare ability to explicate and apply God's Word. I wholeheartedly recommend the St. Andrew's Expositional Commentary to all who long to know the truth better and experience it more deeply in a life-changing fashion. Here is an indispensable tool for digging deeper into God's Word. This is a must-read for every Christian."
Steven J. Lawson, Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship Baptist Church, Mobile, Alabama

"How exciting! Thousands of us have long been indebted to R. C. Sproul the teacher, and now, through the St. Andrew's Expositional Commentary, we are indebted to Sproul the preacher, whose sermons are thoroughly biblical, soundly doctrinal, warmly practical, and wonderfully readable. Sproul masterfully presents us with the 'big picture' of each pericope in a dignified yet conversational style that accentuates the glory of God and meets the real needs of sinful people like us. This series of volumes, a joint effort between two premier publishers, is an absolute must for every Reformed preacher and church member who yearns to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus. I predict that Sproul's pulpit ministry in written form will do for Christians in the twenty-first century what Martyn Lloyd-Jones's sermonic commentaries did for us last century. Tolle lege, and buy these volumes for your friends."
Joel R. Beeke, President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

"John Wesley once said of a colleague that Scripture so thoroughly pulsed through his spiritual veins that he 'bled Bibline.' The same could be said without exaggeration of R. C. Sproul. More specifically, one could easily say that he 'bleeds Pauline.' The theology of the Apostle to the Gentiles courses through Dr. Sproul's veins in all of his work. Therefore, it is a special privilege to be able to read his sermons on Paul's Letter to the Romans. Romans has turned the world upside down for two millennia. Not only did it lead to Augustine's conversion; it was a primary source for his defense of the gospel against Pelagius. This epistle was the catalyst for the Reformation and shaped the minds and hearts of many leaders of the modern missionary movement. Romans continues its revolution to the present day and each of R. C. Sproul's expositions reminds us why. Read this book and, by God's grace, you'll never be the same."
Michael S. Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California

Disciples Are Made, Not Born

From Ajith Fernando's The Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry. He's meditating on Colossians 1:28--"Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ."

Note that full maturity is not for just a few people. The goal is to "present everyone mature in Christ" (Co. 1:28, emphasis added). "Everyone" (literally, "every man," panta anthropon) appears three times in the Greek and in the ESV. In practice it may be that not everyone grows, as they should, to maturity. But that should not be the case. It is not excusable. We cannot rest until all are discipled to maturity. This is a problem with large churches unless there is a concerted attempt to ensure that everyone in the large church is in a small group. Otherwise it would be easy for people to come just as consumers. They get lost in the crowd as anonymous recipients of the programs offered by the church.

Numbers are important because they represent people who have come within the sound of the gospel. This is why Acts twice mentions the number of people who had joined the church (2:41; 4:4). But our focus should not be simply on numbers. We must ensure that everyone has an opportunity to grow. Each individual is important to God and thus to the local church also.

A minister, visiting a family in his congregation, noticed there were many children in the house. He asked the mother, "How many children do you have?" She began to count off on her fingers saying, "John, Mary, Lucy, David...." The minister interrupted, "I don't want their names--I just asked for the number." the mother responded, "They have names, not numbers."

Everyone must be cared for, and we must not rest until that is done. As a church or Christian group grows, structures have to be set in place to ensure that individuals are not overlooked. If that is not done, even thought the church may claim to have grown, it has not grown in the biblical sense. It has just become fat!

Reading this in my quiet time this morning, I was left with three questions:

1. How many churches are simply becoming "fat" and not attending to the biblical vision shared here?
2. Much is made of the decline in attendance at mainline protestant churches over the years. But if groups like the SBC were more faithful in their membership practices, how much different would the decline between evangelical and mainline churches really be?
3. How is every one of the persons in my care growing spiritually? Are they? Do we have a coherent plan for their growth?

I've long been struck by the vision of pastoral ministry that comes through in the Apostle Paul's letters. He's consistently to grow both the size of the church and the depth or maturity of the church. He has a broad kingdom-sized concern for the entire church wherever she gathers, and a laser-like, motherly/fatherly concern for every individual believer in his care. Here's just a few statements in from his letters:

Eph. 4:11-13 --"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ...."

Col. 1:28-29--"We proclaim Him, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me."

1 Thes. 2:9-12--"For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory."

Acts 20:18-21--"You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in pubic and from house to house...."

It's challenging. But pastoral ministry ought to maintain a focus on the entire body and a keen interest in the development and growth of each saint.

How many are in our care? How many can we account for? How many are making progress in the faith? How many do we pray for by name? How many need a fatherly or motherly admonition and exhortation? How many do we really want to know in these ways?

Many of us will no doubt consider the numbers of people in our charge and instantly feel discouraged at the prospect of ever serving them all individually. We'll feel the "impossibility" of serving a large church this way. And we'll be tempted to shrink back to "manageable" activities and settle for "realistic" goals for contacting our people.

And yet, as Paul points out, we don't do this in our strength. It is His mighty strength at work in us. And even if we should fail to serve all as fathers and mothers, that's no reason to not serve any or to settle for serving a small few.

Think of it this way. The Lord himself gave His blood for each and every one of His sheep individually. Can we really imagine negotiating terms with the Savior that allow us to care for a few of that number? Can we imagine ourselves looking into the Savior's hands and side and saying, "Yeah, I think it's reasonable that we only target this number or this cluster of members for pastoral care. Let's aim at 50% and hope for the best with the rest."

No, we can't imagine that, can we? The Lord calls us to great things and places before us great challenges. Let His men rise up in faith and dependence upon His gracious aid, and strive with all His might to care for every sheep in our care so that we will deliver them mature and unblemished on the day of Christ!

Disciples are made, not born. And they're made by men who heed the Lord's call and give themselves shoulders to the plow in this great work.

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:18-20).

Related posts:
By the Numbers
Toward Reforming Membership Practices
Shotgun Churches
Mutual Belonging As Local Church Membership

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Hey... Who Re-Started the T4G Blog?

This slipped by me. But visiting the T4G blog again is a treat because they're posting short interviews with some great guys:

Kevin DeYoung (here and here)
Anthony Carter (here and here)
Mike McKinley (here and here)

My favorite question is #8, "Which of the main T4G speakers could you take to the mat, so to speak?"

Kevin, you're too kind. Tony, don't make me lose some weight!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Congregation Appreciation Month, 2

I'm beat today! With a long day Monday, and a slightly slower but still long Tuesday featuring an elders' meeting, I'm running on about 2/3 power. But 2/3 power in the service of the Lord is full strength; it's the Lord Jesus at work in us. And part of what keeps the pastor rolling is the blessings of a faithful people for whom he may give thanks and express appreciation. I've missed a couple days of posting, so this post brings us reasons 3-6 for the first six days of "congregation appreciation month."

3. No Fishbowl. Boy, I can't tell you how important it is for a pastor's family to be able to live without the constant critical observation of others in the church. "The fishbowl" has robbed many a pastor and family of a healthy family life, of grace they need from others, and for opportunity to grow among the people. It's one of the things that pastors going to a new charge worry about. I don't think we have ever felt ourselves to be in a "fishbowl" here at FBC. Certainly people watch our lives, and we hope what they see glorifies our Savior. But our failures, shortcomings, and idiosyncrasies have met with grace upon grace from the saints at FBC. We've been allowed to be ourselves--my wife just another sister in the church rather than "first lady" or "pastor's wife," my children to be themselves without being labeled PKs, and so on. There is so much grace from God through our people in this one aspect alone. And I know all of the pastors are deeply appreciative.

4. Gospel Hunger. I love preaching to a people who want to hear the gospel every time we gather. The saints think something is wrong if they don't hear the cross in preaching. The other day, I had a brother tell me he didn't hear the gospel clearly in a sermon I preached. He was I right. I was thankful that he listened closely enough to tell. The gospel is simply becoming more and more foundational to our lives together, loved for the beautiful truth it is, and missed when not present in some obvious or rich way. I appreciate ears and hearts tuned to the truth.

5. Gospel Partnership. Gospel hunger has led to a deeper gospel partnership. It's nothing but encouraging to think of how the folks here have so eagerly committed themselves to the spread of the gospel. The church was supported in its early years by Lottie Moon funds, and now increasingly it's a sending church. The Lord has graciously grown our missions budget, moved a number of his people to live more actively evangelistic lives, generated constant support for pastors serving beyond the walls of the church, and so on. I feel like I know what the apostle meant when he wrote to the Philippians praising God for their fellowship with him in the gospel from the first day until the last.

6. Eagerness to Be Shepherded. I don't know that I've ever seen a church of people so eager and willing to receive pastoral care and leadership. As elders, we actually have to slow down to make sure we're not leading too fast or too easily accepting the people's support before making sure we're on the same page. If there were a choice between rebelling and perhaps too quickly submitting, the sheep here will almost always err on the side of submitting too quickly and easily, if there is such a thing. In through it all, one gets the sense that folks are genuinely grateful for their shepherds and the shepherding they receive. That's fun.

7. Compassion. I can't really keep pace with the amount of compassion in the church. There are lots of people in the body with gifts of mercy. And I really appreciate that because that's not my primary gifting. They challenge me personally, act as models for me, and call me to think about how we lead and steward that gifting. It's a good thing to be stretched by the compassion of your people.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Pastor... Looking for a Wife?

Then I'd suggest reading this sage counsel from my brother Mike Gilbart-Smith. Wise comments, especially the part about marrying Hannah being the best earthly decision he ever made. Love a man who knows he married UP! I know I did.


From Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

Deuteronomy 6:5 makes intense love the greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Moderate love is a sin. Maybe the worst sin.

Don Carson on Longing for and Understanding "the Kingdom"

I profit so much from this brother's teaching! And I'm deeply grateful to God for him. The first minute or so on longing for the kingdom is moving (HT: Challies).

Screwtape Comes to Town before Halloween

Press release from Focus on the Family

Colorado Springs, CO – The Devil is back in time for Halloween in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, an audio production from Peabody-award-winning Focus on the Family Radio Theatre®. The full-cast dramatization of the diabolical classic debuted worldwide today.

Hosted by C.S. Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, and starring Andy Serkis (Gollum, Lord of the Rings) as the voice of Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters was recorded in London by world-class actors with an original score and motion picture quality sound design, and includes a “making of” DVD that features footage from C.S. Lewis’ home, church and other frequented locations. Also included are a bonus CD of ten original songs and a collector’s booklet.

The Screwtape story centers around correspondence shared between Screwtape, a senior demon, and Wormwood, his apprentice, as Screwtape mentors Wormwood in the skills necessary to entrap, dominate and torture humans. Most of the 31 letters lead into dramatic scenes set either in Hell or World War II-era London. In writing this masterpiece, Lewis re-imagined Hell as a gruesome bureaucracy with demons laboring in a vast enterprise. Avoiding their own painful torment, as well as a desire for control, is what drives demons to persecute their “patients.”

Anticipation for the release of Screwtape has been building among audio enthusiasts as well as Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis fans. An entire website was built to support the production’s debut, providing downloadable ringtones, avatars and wallpaper. Guests can follow conversations between Screwtape and Wormwood on Twitter, and utilize available social media to join in the discussion.

“Bringing The Screwtape Letters to the world of audio drama has been a career dream,” said Screwtape director Paul McCusker. “To work with this caliber of cast and crew on such a beloved classic is an unparalleled experience. And the themes are timeless. The struggles, fears and failures addressed in this work still plague humanity today. In our culture, we’re hesitant to talk about evil. Here, in the character of Screwtape, evil speaks for itself.”

The Screwtape Letters was produced by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre® and is distributed by Tyndale, with full authorization from the C.S. Lewis estate.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Day in the Life...

Awoke about 6:30am. Brief prayer and reading of scripture.

Breakfast with the family at 7:20am. Good conversation. Praying for goodness in our lives today.

7:55am-8:15am, morning drive to church and school.

8:15am. School chapel. Chapel speaker spoke on the Trinity. Said a couple heretical things and probably scared some children of ever eating eggs again. Note to self: get this beloved brother some help.

9:00-10:00am. Preparation and prayer for funeral at 10am.

10:00am-12:10pm. Funeral for beautiful, joyful three-year-old girl who passed. Offered the only and best hope I know: the gospel of our Lord. Attended a butterfly release with the family at the beach. Lovely time.

12:30pm. Visited a dear sister who lost her husband about a month ago. For the past three years she has served him faithfully following a major stroke that left him unable to talk or move very much. Their love was even more beautiful. Prayed with her as she now begins life after 41 years of marriage. Lovely time; I was probably more encouraged than she was.

1:15-2:30pm. Late for lunch with my beautiful bride and a delightful couple new to the island and the church. Very, very encouraged at their humility, eagerness to serve, and constant encouragement. Praying the Lord settles them well. Great to kiss my wife in the middle of the day. She's beautiful.

2:30-3:15. Weekly planning time with one of my staff members. Dear brother. Loves the Lord and His people. Running 15 minutes behind schedule.

3:15-4:15pm. Still 15 minutes off schedule. Had a wonderful premarital counseling session with a young couple. He's a very new Christian; she's been a Christian about 4 years or so. I love the way they constantly build one another up, even as they're working through things they think will be a challenge in marriage. Note to self: Learn from this.

4:15-5:00pm. Still behind. Had a great "reverse membership interview" with a woman that testified wonderfully to God's grace in her life. Looking forward to seeing her more fully plugged into the congregation.

5:00-5:45pm. Finally got a glance at my email. Answered a couple. Forwarded a couple. The rest will have to keep until tomorrow.

5:45-7:00pm. Visited with a couple from church. She's leaving tomorrow for surgery in Miami. Read the scripture together (Isaiah 43) and prayed about a number of issues. Left really grateful for their faith and the quiet but deep ways the Lord is using them in the congregation. Really the kind of couple that stirs me up to love and good deeds.

Made the ten minute drive home. Found an adorable wife, three beautiful children, and two cheeseburgers waiting for me.

7:51pm. Family about to drive to another brother's home to pray with him. Will hear an update about his recent illness and hospital visit. Pillars of the church. Will be a joy to pray with them.

Hope to be in bed by 9:30pm.

This isn't a typical day in terms of its length. It's longer than normal. I'm normally done about 5:30pm. But it is fairly typical in terms of the schedule. What it leaves you with each day is a meaningful fatigue, a deep reliance upon God, and thankfulness that He has given you so much grace as you've simply tried to serve His people. In the end, the ministry is greater joy to the minister than to those ministered to.

In pastoral ministry, I'm living well beyond my ability, trusting God for grace and mercy at every turn. I wouldn't exchange this ministry or my people for anything in the world!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Congregation Appreciation Month, 1

Someone somewhere decided that October should be "pastor appreciation" month. I don't know who decided this, but I think it's a good idea. After all, 1 Tim. 5:17 reads, "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." It's a godly and biblical thing for God's people to honor the men He raises up to watch over their souls and their work should be a joy (Heb. 13:17).

But, I think we also need a congregation appreciation month. There should be some place where pastors set aside time to express their appreciation for their people. We should do this everyday as we pray for the people, but it seems reasonable to set aside a special season of thanksgiving and gratefulness to God for saving His sheep and calling us to tend them. I know that my dull heart can use a season like this. So, this month, I'm going to try each day to give attention to at least one reason I'm thankful for the people God has graciously allowed me to serve. And since it's already October 2nd, here are two:

1. Humility. This past Sunday I had the joy of meeting with a new couple to the island. They were excited to be in Cayman and even more excited to be at FBC. They commended the church for a number of things, but what stood out to me was their praise to God for the humility they sensed in the people of FBC. I think they were spot on in recognizing God's grace in this. It's really one of the first things I noticed when I first visited in January 2006, and one of the things I say to people who ask me what the church is like. I say, "The saints at FBC are a humble people, sweet, who love the Lord and His gospel." I'm deeply appreciative of the humility that God has worked in the life of this congregation over its 32 years of existence, a humility that springs from the cross, is deepened through service, sweetened through suffering, and evident to others. May He continue to grow us in humility.

2. Generosity. Boy, there are too many instances to name in this short post. The folks at FBC do not give to be seen but as an act of private, joyful dedication to the Lord. So, I'd be out of bounds to get too specific about people or acts. But as pastors, we're well cared for. When there is a need, people respond with giving and sharing. We're growing in hospitality and openness with our lives. God has freely given us all things with Christ His Son, and the people at FBC give to one another like they know God's generosity to them in Christ.

These are two reasons I'm deeply appreciative of the people the Lord has given me to shepherd. Tomorrow, Lord willing, one other.

Pastors, why are you appreciative of your people?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Audio for the Soul

This 9Marks interview with Shai Linne and Voice on holy hip hop is enlightening and edifying. Enjoy!

C.J. has a link to the audio from the God Exposed conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Great stuff for the soul and the pastor needing encouragement.

And here are some pictures from the conference.

Also, here is the panel discussion hosted by Baptist 21 during the God Exposed conference.