Friday, December 28, 2012

Our Ever Great Reward

O Christ, Our Hope, Our Heart's Desire
Latin Hymn, c. 8th Century; translated by John Chandler, 1806-1876

O Christ, our hope, our heart's desire,
Redemption's only spring;
Creator of the world art Thou,
Its Savior and its King.

How vast the mercy and the love
Which laid our sins on Thee,
And led Thee to a cruel death
To set Thy people free.

But now the bonds of death are burst,
The ransom has been paid;
And Thou art on Thy Father's throne,
In glorious robes arrayed.

O may Thy mighty love prevail,
Our sinful souls to spare;
O may we come before Thy throne,
And find acceptance there!

O Christ, be Thou our lasting joy,
Our ever great reward;
Our only glory may it be
To glory in the Lord!

All praise to Thee, ascended Lord;
All glory ever be,
To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Through all eternity.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
(Luke 2:11)

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) 

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." (Galatians 4:4-5) 

Friday, December 21, 2012

To God All Praise and Glory Be

All People of the Coming King
M. Justin Wainscott

All people of the coming King,
All servants of the Lord,
Come, lift your voices, let us sing
With hearts in one accord:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

In Bethlehem the angels praised
The birth of Christ our King;
So let us now with voices raised
Rejoice with them and sing:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, marvel in the mystery
Of Jesus' virgin birth;
To God all praise and glory be,
And peace o'er all the earth.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

His first advent salvation wrought
By dying on the tree;
Yet He, through resurrection, bought
For us eternity.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

To Him who came and conquered sin,
Triumphant and supreme;
To Him who'll one day come again,
We sound this joyous theme:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

And when He comes, our King, to reign,
And earth and heav'n be new;
Then may the sound of this refrain
Our longing hearts renew:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where the Wild Things Are (and Have Been Overcome)

Enduring the Wilderness
M. Justin Wainscott, Copyright 2012

It should come as no surprise
that our earthly pilgrimage
is often compared
to the wilderness experience
of the Israelites.
Nor is it by accident
that the English word wilderness
contains the word wild within it.
The wilderness is anything
but safe or tame.
It contains many
dangers, toils, and snares.
But it's also the only sure path
to the Promised Land.
And thankfully, that path
is well worn by the pilgrims
who've gone before us
and, more importantly,
by our Lord,
who first cleared the path.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Surprise Rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus

Many of you have likely seen this before, but it is worth watching again.

On Saturday, October 30, 2010, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform one of the Knight Foundation's "Random Acts of Culture" at Macy's in Center City Philadelphia. Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ - the world's largest pipe organ - the OCP Chorus and throngs of singers from the community infiltrated the store as shoppers and burst into a pop-up rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah at 12 noon, to the delight of surprised shoppers.

Friday, December 14, 2012

This Precious Child Was Born to Pay Our Cursed, Sinful Debt

Sing Highest Praises to Our King
M. Justin Wainscott © 2009

Sing highest praises to our King,
Who left His throne above;
And clothed Himself in flesh to bring
The blessings of His love.

The glory He had long enjoyed,
He humbly set aside;
How great the means which Christ employed
To save a sinful Bride!

In Bethlehem by virgin birth,
As prophets did foretell;
Our God descended to the earth,
And didst among us dwell.

We see Him in the manger lay,
But let us ne’er forget;
This precious Child was born to pay
Our cursed, sinful debt.

This perfect Lamb for sinners slain,
Who died and rose again,
Now sits on David’s throne and reigns
In vict’ry over sin.

So let our longing hearts all burn
With zeal for Christ our King,
And for the day of His return,
When He shall reign supreme!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Indispensable Work of the Spirit

Listen to Spurgeon on the absolutely crucial role that the Holy Spirit plays in our redemption.  The Son accomplishes our redemption, but the Spirit applies it.  And without His application, the work of the Son would be of no benefit to us.
Let us ever remember that Christ on the cross is of no value to us, apart from the Holy Spirit in us.

In vain that blood is flowing, unless the finger of the Spirit applies the blood to our conscience; in vain is that garment of righteousness wrought out, unless the Holy Spirit wraps it around us and arrays us in its costly folds.

The river of the water of life cannot quench our thirst, till the Spirit presents the goblet and lifts it to our lips.

All the things which are in the paradise of God could never be blissful to us, so long as we are dead souls — and dead we are, until that heavenly wind comes and breathes upon us, that we may live.
We do not hesitate to say that we owe as much to God the Holy Spirit as we do to God the Son.

--Charles Spurgeon
HT: Of First Importance

Monday, December 10, 2012

2012 Living Christmas Tree This Weekend

For those of you in and around Jackson, Tennessee, I invite you to join us this weekend for the 35th Living Christmas Tree at First Baptist Church.  This year's presentation is titled "From Darkness to Light," and will be held on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:00PM and on Sunday afternoon at 2:00PM.

The Living Christmas Tree is free and open to the public.  Click here to reserve tickets online.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rise, the Woman's Conquering Seed

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Charles Wesley, 1707-1788; alt. George Whitefield, 1714-1770

Hark, the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

Christ, by highest heavn adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th'incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

Hail, the heav'n born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris'n with healing in his wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

Rise, the Woman's conqu'ring Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent's head!
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Adam's likeness, Lord, efface;
Stamp Thine image in its place;
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love!
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Keith and Kristyn Getty in Jackson

Keith and Kristyn Getty's "Joy: An Irish Christmas" tour will be making a stop in Jackson this Sunday evening.  They will be at West Jackson Baptist Church at 7:00PM on Sunday evening.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Restoration Occurs Best in the Garden of Grace

A helpful reminder to exercise grace when reconciliation and restoration occur (drawn from the parable of the prodigal son):
The younger son was ready to do penance when he got home, but the first thing the father wanted his son to do was dance....No doubt, there were some "walks and talks" about the prodigal son's sinful choices, but restoration occurs best in the garden of grace, not under the doghouse of shame.

--Scotty Smith, Tabletalk (December 2012)  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Is Not Thy Mercy Still the Same?

My God, My Father, Blissful Name
Anne Steele, 1716-1778

My God, my Father, blissful name,
Oh may I call Thee mine?
May I with sweet assurance claim
A portion so divine?

This only can my fears control,
And bid my sorrows fly;
What harm can ever reach my soul
Beneath my Father’s eye?
Whate’er Thy providence denies,
I calmly would resign;
For Thou art just, and good, and wise.
O bend my will to Thine.

Whate’er Thy sacred will ordains,
O give me strength to bear;
And let me know my Father reigns,
And trust His tender care.

If pain and sickness rend this frame,
And life almost depart,
Is not Thy mercy still the same
To cheer my drooping heart?

If cares and sorrows me surround,
Their power why should I fear?
My inward peace they cannot wound
If Thou, my God, art near.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The War On Sin

A convicting question raised by Kevin DeYoung:
If the war on poverty is worth fighting, how much more the war on your own sin?
There is a gap between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness. This must change. It's not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It's the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.  
--Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Melody That Had Long Been Silent

While re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit over the holiday weekend, I was struck by how significant a role music and songs played in his tale (and the same is true in The Lord of the Rings).  There is joyful singing, playful singing, sorrowful singing, etc.  Songs and music play a central role in the story. 

Maybe the most poignant place to notice this is in what Tolkien says about the dragon, Smaug, and how music and melody had been lost under his cruel dominion.  Listen to what happens when Bilbo and the dwarves come upon the unguarded treasure of the dragon:
Fili and Kili were almost in merry mood, and finding still hanging there many golden harps strung with silver they took them and struck them; and being magical (and also untouched by the dragon, who had small interest in music) they were still in tune. The dark hall was filled with a melody that had long been silent.    

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving Hymn

Great Sovereign Lord, What Human Eye
Samuel Boyce, 1812

Great sovereign Lord, what human eye
Amidst Thy works can rove,
And not Thy liberal hand espy,
Nor trace Thy bounteous love?

Each star that gilds the heavenly frame,
On earth each verdant clod,
In language loud to men proclaim
The great and bounteous God.

The lesson each revolving year
Repeats in various ways;
Rich Thy provisions, Lord, appear;
The poor shall shout Thy praise.

Our fruitful fields and pastures tell,
Of man and beast Thy care;
The thriving corn Thy breezes fill,
Thy breath perfumes the air.

But oh, what human eye can trace,
Or human heart conceive,
The greater riches of Thy grace
Impoverished souls receive?

Love everlasting has not spared
Its best beloved Son;
And in Him endless life prepared,
For souls by sin undone.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Our Lives Are Directed by Our Hungers

A reminder that human desire or human hunger is not the problem, but what our sin causes us to hunger for:
From the beginning, then, Scripture affirms the reality and goodness of human hunger. Sin, of course, perverts our hunger, so that we seek to taste forbidden fruit rather than grasp the fruit of of the tree of life, but sin does not change the fundamental realities of human desire. Our hearts follow where our treasure is; if what we value above all is in heaven, we will desire Christ who is above, but if what we find most desirable are earthly things, our hearts will be focused on things below. Our lives are directed by our hungers, and we find rest only when we hunger for the One who opens His hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing more than we hunger for the things in His hand.

--Peter Leithart, Blessed Are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord's Supper

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Doctrine Most Divine

What Wisdom, Majesty, and Grace
Samuel Stennett, 1727-1795

What wisdom, majesty and grace
Through all the Gospel shine!
’Tis God that speaks, and we confess
The doctrine most divine.

Down from His starry throne on high,
Th’almighty Savior comes;
Lays His bright robes of glory by,
And feeble flesh assumes.

The mighty debt that sinners owed,
Upon the cross He pays;
Then through the clouds ascends to God,
’Midst shouts of loftiest praise.

There He, our great high priest, appears,
Before His Father’s throne;
Mingles His merits with our tears,
And pours salvation down.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Bible Is a Humbling Book

Rich Mullins on why we were given the Scriptures (put in a way that only Rich could put it):
We were given the Scriptures not so that we could prove that we are right about everything, but we were given the Scriptures to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing...which is what makes the Bible so fun to read (especially if you're not a fundamentalist).

--Rich Mullins 

Monday, November 12, 2012

CT's Roundup of Post-Election Responses from Prominent Christian Voices

Christianity Today has a collection of quotes from different voices reflecting on the "new moral landscape" of post-election America.  You can read them here

Thursday, November 8, 2012

He All His Foes Shall Quell

Rejoice, the Lord Is King
Charles Wesley, 1707-1788

Rejoice, the Lord is King:
Your Lord and King adore;
Mortals, give thanks, and sing,
And triumph evermore.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say rejoice.

Jesus, the Savior, reigns,
The God of truth and love;
When he had purged our stains,
He took his seat above.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say rejoice.

His kingdom cannot fail,
He rules o'er earth and heaven!
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus given.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say rejoice.

He all his foes shall quell,
Shall all our sins destroy,
And every bosom swell
With pure seraphic joy.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say rejoice.

Rejoice in glorious hope:
Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take his servants up,
To their eternal home.
We soon shall hear th' archangel's voice:
The trump of God shall sound, rejoice.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The LORD Will Reign Forever - A Reminder on Election Day

If you are an American citizen and you have not voted yet, I hope you will exercise your right and duty at some point today by going to vote.  Too many sacrifices have been made for you and me not to take advantage of this great freedom.   

And then as you watch and wait on the results of this election throughout the day and into the night, I hope you will keep the truth of Psalm 146 in mind (whether the candidate you voted for wins or loses).  Let this psalm remind us where our ultimate hope and trust must lie - in the God who will reign forever:
Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!

--Psalm 146:3-10

Monday, November 5, 2012

We Shall Not Be Able to Strut Round Heaven Like Peacocks

A good reminder of our need for humility:
Christians are always uncomfortable in the presence of pride, for they sense its incongruity. We shall not be able to strut round heaven like peacocks. Heaven will be filled with the exploits of Christ and the praises of God. There will indeed be display in heaven. Not self-display, however, but rather a display of the incomparable wealth of God's grace, mercy, and kindness through Jesus Christ.

--John Stott

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Hymn for All Saints Day

For All the Saints
William How, 1823-1897

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Battle Hymn of the Reformation

Since this is the week leading up to Reformation Day, all posts will have to do with the Reformation.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Martin Luther, 1483-1546

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our Helper, He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name;
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours,
Through Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What the Reformation Was Really About

Since this is the week leading up to Reformation Day, all posts will have to do with the Reformation.

"The closer one looks, the clearer it becomes: the Reformation was not, principally, a negative movement, about moving away from Rome; it was a positive movement, about moving towards the gospel."

--Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation

Friday, October 26, 2012

To Thee, Lord Jesus, Only!

In the Midst of Earthly Life
Martin Luther, 1483-1546

In the midst of earthly life
Snares of death surround us;
Who shall help us in the strife
Lest the Foe confound us?
Thou only, Lord, Thou only!

In the midst of death’s dark vale
Powers of hell o’ertake us.
Who will help when they assail,
Who secure will make us?
Thou only, Lord, Thou only!

In the midst of utter woe
When our sins oppress us,
Where shall we for refuge go,
Where for grace to bless us?
To Thee, Lord Jesus, only!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Brief Definition of Worship

A.W. Tozer's brief but apt definition of worship:
A meeting where the only attraction is God.
To read more of Tozer's thoughts on worship, I would recommend his Whatever Happened to Worship? A Call to True Worship.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pray for Your Pastors

The image above gives you a pretty good idea of what most pastors feel like on Monday mornings - either weary or discouraged (or both).  So take a moment right now to stop and pray for your pastor(s) on this Monday morning (if you are a pastor, pray this for your friends and colleagues in ministry).  Pray that today:
  1. They would have quality time in the Word and prayer
  2. They would be refreshed and renewed by God 
  3. They would be assured and affirmed in their calling 
  4. They would be reminded of the joys and privileges of pastoral ministry 
  5. They would have the time to read something that will feed their minds and nurture their souls
  6. They would have a conversation that is edifying and encouraging 
  7. They would enjoy the evening with their families 
Now, one more thing: send them an email or a text message (or whatever means of communication you prefer) to encourage them, thank them, and let them know you are praying for them this morning.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Saw the Bait But Not the Hook

Sin, When Viewed By Scripture Light
John Newton, 1725-1807

Sin, when viewed by Scripture light,
Is a horrid, hateful sight;
But when seen in Satan’s glass,
Then it wears a pleasing face.

When the gospel trumpet sounds,
When I think how grace abounds,
When I feel sweet peace within,
Then I’d rather die than sin.

When the cross I view by faith,
Sin is madness, poison, death;
Tempt me not, ’tis all in vain,
Sure I ne’er can yield again.

Satan, for awhile debarred,
When he finds me off my guard,
Puts his glass before my eyes,
Quickly other thoughts arise.

What before excited fears,
Rather pleasing now appears;
If a sin, it seems so small,
Or, perhaps, no sin at all.

Often thus, through sin’s deceit,
Grief, and shame, and loss I meet,
Like a fish, my soul mistook,
Saw the bait, but not the hook.

O my Lord, what shall I say?
How can I presume to pray?
Not a word have I to plead,
Sins, like mine, are black indeed!

Made, by past experience, wise,
Let me learn Thy Word to prize;
Taught by what I’ve felt before,
Let me Satan’s glass abhor.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ray Van Neste Preaching at FBC Jackson on Sunday

For those of you in and around Jackson, I encourage you to come hear Ray Van Neste preach God's Word for us at First Baptist Church at 9:00 this Sunday morning, October 21.

Dr. Van Neste serves as Professor of Biblical Studies and Director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University.  And for those of you who benefit from the ESV Study Bible, you might be interested to know that Ray wrote the notes for the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus).  He also recently co-edited a book on the Psalms, Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Holy Ground in Common Places

A poetic reminder from Browning that holy ground is found in the most common of places:
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

--Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

Monday, October 15, 2012

Moore on "Farewell to the American Protestant Majority"

An excerpt from Russell Moore's reflections on the results of the recent Pew Forum study:
According to a new study by the Pew Forum, Protestants are, for the first time in history, not a majority in the United States of America. I don’t think that’s anything for evangelical Protestants, or anyone else, to panic about.


Frankly, we should be more concerned about the loss of a Christian majority in the Protestant churches than about the loss of a Protestant majority in the United States. Most of the old-line Protestant denominations are captive to every theological fad that has blown through their divinity schools in the past thirty years-from crypto-Marxist liberation ideologies to sexual identity politics to a neo-pagan vision of God—complete with gender neutralized liturgies. Should we lament the fact that the Riverside Avenue Protestant establishment is now collapsing under the weight of its own bureaucracy?

What we should pay attention to instead may be the fresh wind of orthodox Christianity whistling through the leaves-especially throughout the third world, and in some unlikely places in North America, as well. Sometimes animists, Buddhists, and body-pierced Starbucks employees are more fertile ground for the gospel than the confirmed Episcopalian at the helm of the Rotary Club.

Accordingly, evangelicals will engage the culture much like the apostles did in the first century—not primarily to “baptized” pagans on someone’s church roll, but as those who are hearing something new for the first time. There may be fewer bureaucrats in denominational headquarters, but there might be more authentically Christian churches preaching an authentically Christian gospel.
Read his reflections in their entirety here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Thy Tender Mercies Shall Illume

If, On a Quiet Sea
Augustus Toplady, 1740-1778

If, on a quiet sea, toward Heaven we calmly sail,
With grateful hearts, O God, to Thee,
We’ll own the favoring gale,
With grateful hearts, O God, to Thee,
We’ll own the favoring gale.

But should the surges rise, and rest delay to come,
Blest be the tempest, kind the storm,
Which drives us nearer home,
Blest be the tempest, kind the storm,
Which drives us nearer home.

Soon shall our doubts and fears all yield to Thy control;
Thy tender mercies shall illume
The midnight of the soul,
Thy tender mercies shall illume
The midnight of the soul.

Teach us, in every state, to make Thy will our own;
And when the joys of sense depart,
To live by faith alone,
And when the joys of sense depart,
To live by faith alone.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Value of Theologically Rich Hymns

There is a current article on The Gospel Coalition blog that serves as a good reminder of the value of singing theologically rich hymns - Why New Churches Should Sing Old Songs.  Here's an excerpt:
Pastoral and theological giants of the past went to pain-staking lengths to pen doctrinally rich, gospel-centered songs with the intention of shaping the people under their care. They poetically developed their thoughts to tell stories that would most memorably engage the intellects and emotions of the people who would be singing them. As a result, many of these songs became gems that have withstood the crucible of time.
Read the entire article by Stephen Miller here.    

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Sermon in Wood

We just completed a renovation of the sanctuary at our church in honor of our 175th Anniversary.  As a part of that renovation, we got a new pulpit (pictured above).  The following is an excerpt from the introduction of my first sermon in it, which I hope served as an appropriate dedication of the new pulpit and a fitting reminder of the fact that the pulpit matters because the Word of God preached from it matters.

Christians of the Greek Orthodox tradition have a wonderful saying about church architecture, which says, “A beautiful church is a sermon in stone.” In other words, the architecture of the church itself says something – the cruciform shape of the sanctuary, the vaulted ceilings and large columns that force your eyes upward to heaven and remind you of how small you are, the symbols of different aspects of the Christian faith used throughout. The artistry of the building is a sermon all by itself, a sermon in stone, as the Greek Orthodox say.

Well, when we as a church decided several months ago to renovate our sanctuary, I knew there wasn’t much need for me to weigh in on the decorative decisions because we had a great committee who was very capable of making those decisions. And haven’t they done a wonderful job! But I did want to have input on one thing. I wanted to have input on the new pulpit. And not for the reason you may think. It wasn’t just because I would be the one preaching from it. In fact, I hope our new pulpit is here long after I’m gone, so that’s not the main reason I wanted to have input on it. I wanted to have input on it because I wanted the pulpit itself to be symbolic of what we believe and value as a church. I wanted it to communicate something all by itself. I wanted our pulpit to be more than just a piece of furniture; I wanted it to be a sermon in wood. I wanted it to be a symbolic sermon all by itself.

So in a day and age in which many churches are moving away from even having pulpits, I wanted someone who walked into our sanctuary (even if it was empty and even if they knew nothing about us) to see our new pulpit and say to themselves, “This looks like a church that values the Word.” In a day and age in which pulpits seem to be getting smaller and smaller, I wanted us to have a pulpit that no one could miss…and I think we’ve succeeded! So if you’re wondering why our new pulpit is so large, the reason is because I wanted it to serve as a symbolic reminder to me and to anyone else who preaches in it of the weight and gravity and significance of the task of preaching. Puny pulpits too easily lend themselves to puny preaching. Lightweight pulpits are too susceptible to lightweight preaching that’s shallow and superficial. And we don’t want puny, lightweight, superficial preaching at First Baptist Church!

In a day and age in which biblical, expository preaching is lacking, I wanted us to have a pulpit that serves as an ever-present reminder that the regular, consistent preaching that should happen in our church is the preaching of the Word of God. That’s why “Preach the Word” is inscribed on the front of the new pulpit. And in a day and age in which the gospel is being distorted and even denied, I wanted us to have a pulpit placed right in the center of our sanctuary with a cross right on the middle of it, so that we remember that what is central here at First Baptist Church is the Word of God and what is central to the Word of God is Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead. So, that’s why there’s a cross right in the middle of our new pulpit.

Therefore, our new pulpit is more than just a piece of furniture. Our beautiful, new pulpit is a sermon in wood. But here’s the challenge that lies before us – will the sermons that flow from that pulpit match the sermon that is that pulpit? Will what comes out of it match what is on it? Will the actual sermons match the symbolic sermon? Because I’ve seen, and I’m sure you’ve seen, many a beautiful church building whose architecture preaches a wonderful symbolic sermon, but the actual sermons in those churches seem to speak of another God entirely. I’ve seen many a large, beautiful pulpit and yet what flows from those pulpits is a far cry from the Word of God.

So yes, the symbolism of our new pulpit is significant, and it matters. It says something, and it says something really important. But it’s not enough. Our new pulpit must be more than just a symbol. We need the actual sermons that flow from that pulpit to match the symbolic sermon that is that pulpit. We need sermons that recognize the weight and gravity and magnitude of being a messenger of the very words of God. We need sermons that point us to the cross of Calvary, that are centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we need sermons that exposit the truth of Scripture, that preach the Word of God, that recognize that "man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God," that recognize that "faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ," and that recognize that "the grass withers and the flowers fall but the word of our God will stand forever."

Friday, October 5, 2012

No Gift Like This Could Ever Shine

Behold, What Wondrous Love and Grace
William Sanders, 1799-??

Behold, what wondrous love and grace!
When we were wretched and undone,
To save our ruined, helpless race,
The Father gave His only Son!
Of twice ten thousand gifts divine,
No gift like this could ever shine.

Jesus, to save us from our fall,
Was made incarnate here below;
This was the greatest gift of all—
Heaven could no greater gift bestow:
On Him alone our sins were laid;
He died, and now the ransom’s paid.

O gift of love unspeakable!
O gift of mercy all divine!
We once were slaves of death and hell,
But now we in His image shine.
For other gifts our songs we raise,
But this demands our highest praise.

Praise shall employ these tongues of ours
Till we, with all the hosts above,
Extol His name with nobler powers,
Lost in the ocean of His love:
While angel choirs with wonder gaze,
We’ll fill the heavens with shouts of praise.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Converted Men Are Singing Men

Check out this brief aside on men and singing at the beginning of Alistair Begg's sermon at Western Seminary (I appreciate a church member passing along this video clip to me).

If, for some reason, the clip doesn't start at the right place, skip to the 5:08 mark.


Monday, October 1, 2012

The Importance of Church Membership - 9Marks Audio

Church membership is different and more important than you think, says Jonathan Leeman in this 9Marks Workshop message, "Membership as Citizenship."  Click here to listen.  

Leeman is the director of communications at 9Marks and the author of Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus. His other books include Reverberation: How God's Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People and Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Greater Than All My Doubts and Fears

O My Distrustful Heart
William Hammond, 1719-1783

O my distrustful heart,
How small thy faith appears!
But greater, Lord, Thou art,
Than all my doubts and fears:
Did Jesus once upon me shine?
Then Jesus is for ever mine.

Unchangeable His will,
Whatever be my frame;
His loving heart is still
Eternally the same:
My soul through many changes goes,
His love no variation knows.

Thou, Lord, wilt carry on,
And perfectly perform
The work Thou hast begun
In me a sinful worm:
'Midst all my fears, and sin, and woe,
Thy Spirit will not let me go.

The bowels of Thy grace
At first did freely move;
I still shall see Thy face,
And feel that God is love:
My soul into Thy arms I cast,
I know I shall be saved at last!   

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is "No Creed but the Bible" Actually Unbiblical?

Carl Trueman, who I always find enjoyable and challenging (even when I don't agree with him), has just written a new book aimed primarily at his evangelical friends in non-confessional or non-creedal traditions, attempting to help them see the need for creeds and confessions.  In this new book, The Creedal Imperative, he writes:
Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions which are written down and exist as public documents, subject to public scrutiny, evaluation, and critique; and those who have private creeds and confessions which are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not subject to testing by scripture to see whether they are true or not.
He concludes the first chapter with a gentle challenge to anti-confessional and anti-creedal evangelicals:
I conclude this chapter by posing a challenge to those who, in  their earnest desire to be faithful to Scripture as the supreme authority of faith and life, claim that they have no creed but the Bible. Reflect critically on the cultural forces that are certainly consonant with holding such a position and ask yourself whether they have perhaps reinforced your antipathy to creeds and confessions in a way that is not directly related to the Bible’s own teaching at all. Then, setting aside for just a moment your sincere convictions on this matter, read the rest of this book and see whether creeds and confessions might not actually provide you with a better way of preserving precisely those aspects of biblical, Christian faith which are most valuable to you and which you passionately wish to communicate to your church.
For those evangelicals who are not particularly confessional in their thinking, this book may be a helpful and challenging read. 


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Poetry and Melody

The following quote is from a book about music recently given to me by a church member who is an avid reader and fellow poetry lover.  While the author doesn't seem to completely share our biblical worldview (especially as it relates to creation and evolution), he does make some fascinating observations and insights. 

In the opening chapter, he draws a connection between poetry and music, arguing that poetry is rhythmic, melodious, and serves as a form of music.  I couldn't agree more.  Here's the way he states it:  
[W]hatever its form, written poetry is characterized by a kind of music.  Accent structures in words naturally make a sort of melody.  In the word melody itself the first syllable is stressed, which makes it louder than the others, and most native English speakers will give it a higher pitch than other syllables.  The word melody has a melody!  Good poetry plays with speech sounds to create a pleasing set of pitch patterns, and good poetry contains rhythmic groupings that are songlike.  When a poem succeeds, it is a sensual experience - the way the words feel in the mouth of the speaker and the way they sound in the ears of the hearer are part of the encounter.  Unlike prose, most poems ask to be read aloud.  This is why poetry lovers usually do so.  Just reading the poem is not enough.  The reader needs to feel the rhythms.

--Daniel J. Levitin, The World in Six Songs

Friday, September 21, 2012

Give Me Christ, Or Else I Die

Christ, Or Else I Die
William Hammond, 1719-1783

Gracious Lord, incline Thy ear;
My request vouchsafe to hear;
Hear my never-ceasing cry:
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Wealth and honor I disdain,
Earthly comforts, Lord, are vain;
These can never satisfy;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Lord, deny me what Thou wilt,
Only ease me of my guilt.
Suppliant at Thy feet I lie;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

All unholy and unclean,
I am nothing but sin;
On Thy mercy I rely;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Thou dost freely save the lost;
In Thy grace alone I trust.
With my earnest suit comply;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Thou dost promise to forgive
All who in Thy Son believe;
Lord, I know Thou canst not lie;
Give me Christ, or else I die.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Music and Memory

Music and Memory
M. Justin Wainscott, Copyright 2012

The relationship between music
and memory is a mystery,
but a mystery common to all men.
Who among us hasn't heard a song
and instantly remembered a person
or a place or a season of life?
Even if that particular person or place
or that time of life was, in our minds,
a distant, even forgotten, memory,
music has a mysterious way
of making it feel like only yesterday.
It's as if music is a melodious key
that unlocks men's memories.
Of course, some of those memories
we'd rather remain hidden and locked away,
but music and memory, it seems,
have minds of their own.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pastoral Reminders Amidst Political Unrest

I recently provided our congregation with an article that I hope will provide a balanced and biblical perspective on the upcoming presidential election.   If you would like to read the article, titled Keeping Perspective: Pastoral Reminders amidst Political Unrest, you can click here to view it on our church blog.  Or if you want to download the print version as a PDF, click on that same page and scroll down to the very bottom.

I hope this article proves helpful, and I hope it reminds us of those things that are so easy to lose sight of during this election season.    

Friday, September 14, 2012

Jehovah Is the Sinner's Friend

Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace
D. Herbert

Come boldly to the throne of grace,
Ye wretched sinners come;
And lay your load at Jesus’ feet,
And plead what he has done.

“How can I come?” Some soul may say,
“I’m lame and cannot walk;
My guilt and sin have stopped my mouth;
I sigh, but dare not talk.”

Come boldly to the throne of grace,
Though lost, and blind, and lame;
Jehovah is the sinner’s Friend,
And ever was the same.

He makes the dead to hear his voice;
He makes the blind to see;
The sinner lost he came to save,
And set the prisoner free.

Come boldly to the throne of grace,
For Jesus fills the throne;
And those he kills he makes alive;
He hears the sigh or groan.

Poor bankrupt souls, who feel and know
The hell of sin within,
Come boldly to the throne of grace;
The Lord will take you in.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Humility in the Wrong Place

The ever quotable G.K. Chesterton:
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place.  Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition . . . [and] settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be.  A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.  We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.

--G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What American Christians Were Reminded of on 9/11

What a previous generation of American Christians were reminded of on December 7, 1941, another generation was reminded of on September 11, 2001.  May these words from Psalm 46 bring renewed comfort and hope to us on this anniversary of that day:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear
though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved
into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
There is a river whose streams make glad
the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

--Psalm 46:1-7

Friday, September 7, 2012

'Tis He, Instead of Me, Is Seen

One Glance of Thine, Eternal Lord
John Newton, 1725-1807

One glance of Thine, eternal Lord,
Pierces all nature through;
Nor heaven, nor earth, nor hell afford
A shelter from Thy view.

The mighty whole, each smaller part,
At once before Thee lies;
And every thought of every heart
Is open to Thine eyes.

Though greatly from myself concealed,
Thou seest my inward frame;
To Thee I always stand revealed,
Exactly as I am.

Since, therefore, I can hardly bear
What in myself I see;
How vile and black must I appear,
Most holy God, to Thee?

But since my Savior stands between,
In garments dyed in blood,
'Tis He, instead of me, is seen,
When I approach to God.

Thus, though a sinner, I am safe;
He pleads before the throne,
His life and death in my behalf,
And calls my sins His own.

What wondrous love, what mysteries,
In this appointment shine!
My breaches of the law are His,
And His obedience mine.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Robert Smith in Jackson This Weekend

For those of you in and around Jackson, Tennessee, I wanted to make you aware of a few events and opportunities to hear Robert Smith, Jr.  Dr. Smith will be preaching twice and leading a workshop for preachers here this weekend.   He will be preaching in chapel at Union University and in the morning worship at First Baptist Church, Jackson.   

I encourage you to go and hear one of the Church's most gifted preachers alive today.  Below are the dates, times, and places.      

Preaching in Chapel at Union University
Friday, September 7
10:00 AM
G.M. Savage Chapel

Preaching Workshop
Friday, September 7
2:00-4:30 PM
Grant Center at Union University
Free Event (please email to let them know you're going) 
  • 2:00 PM - Christ-Centered Preaching
  • 3:00 PM - Doctrinal Preaching
  • 4:00 PM - Q&A / Time of Prayer

Preaching at First Baptist Church, Jackson
Sunday, September 9
9:00 AM

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New Music from Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson just released his new album, Light for the Lost Boy.  And while the music on this album is less acoustic and folksy as his previous work, the lyrical depth is classic Peterson.

I've only been able to give it a few listens thus far, but I think my favorite song at this point is "Carry the Fire."

Here is a video of Peterson explaining the story behind the song.

And here is a rough video shot on the tour bus of Peterson playing and singing an acoustic version of the song.

Andrew Peterson, "Carry the Fire" from The Rabbit Room on Vimeo.

Carry the Fire

I will hold your hand, love
As long as I can, love
Though the powers rise against us

Though your fears assail you
And your body may fail you
There’s a fire that burns within us

And we dream in the night
Of a city descending
With the sun in the center
And a peace unending

I will, I will carry the fire
I will, I will carry the fire
Carry the fire for you

And we kneel in the water
The sons and the daughters
And we hold our hearts before us

And we look to the distance
And raise our resistance
In the face of the forces
Gathered against us

And we dream in the night
Of a King and a kingdom
Where joy writes the songs
And the innocent sing them

I will carry the fire for you
Oh, sing on, sing on
(Light up the darkness)
When your hope is gone, sing on

And we dream in the night
Of a feast and a wedding
And the Groom in his glory
When the bride is made ready

I will carry the fire for you

Friday, August 31, 2012

He Smiles, and My Comforts Abound

A Sovereign Protector I Have
Augustus Toplady, 1740-1778

A sovereign protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.

Inspirer and hearer of prayer,
Thou shepherd and guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my shield and my sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.

Kind author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defense Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Seeing More and More of My Own Insufficiency

An excerpt of a letter from William Carey to his father, which left me saying, "I can relate!": 
I see more and more of my own insufficiency for the great work I am called to. The truths of God are amazingly profound, the souls of men infinitely precious, my own ignorance very great. . . .

--Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey, Timothy George

Friday, August 24, 2012

My Soul Shall Glow with Gratitude

The Evil Heart Made New
Augustus Toplady, 1740-1778

Astonished and distressed,
I turn mine eyes within:
My heart with loads of guilt oppressed,
The seat of every sin.

What crowds of evil thoughts,
What vile affections there!
Distrust, presumption, artful guile,
Pride, envy, slavish fear.

Almighty King of saints,
These tyrant lusts subdue;
Expel the darkness of my mind,
And all my pow'rs renew.

This done, my cheerful voice
Shall loud hosannas raise;
My soul shall glow with gratitude,
My lips proclaim Thy praise.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shepherds Feeding the Sheep or Clowns Entertaining the Goats?

Charles Spurgeon spoke these prophetic words in the 1800s.  It's sad how true they have become in our own day.
A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Word He Has Spoken Shall Surely Prevail

Begone Unbelief
John Newton, 1725-1807

Begone unbelief, my Savior is near,
And for my relief will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle, and He wilt perform,
With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.

Though dark be my way, since He is my Guide,
’Tis mine to obey, ’tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken, and creatures all fail,
The Word He has spoken shall surely prevail.

His love in time past forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink;
Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review,
Confirms His good pleasure to help me quite through.

Determined to save, He watched o’er my path,
When Satan’s blind slave, I sported with death;
And can He have taught me to trust in His Name,
And thus far have brought me, to put me to shame?

Why should I complain of want or distress,
Temptation or pain? He told me no less:
The heirs of salvation, I know from His Word,
Through much tribulation must follow their Lord.

How bitter that cup, no heart can conceive,
Which He drank quite up, that sinners might live!
His way was much rougher, and darker than mine;
Did Jesus thus suffer, and shall I repine?

Since all that I meet shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet, the medicine is food;
Though painful at present, wilt cease before long,
And then, O! how pleasant, the conqueror’s song!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lamenting a Human Loss

I read Steve Baarendse's Why I'm Not on Facebook: An Open Letter to Christian College Students in Touchstone a few months ago and found it enjoyable and thought-provoking, though I admit I'm neither a Facebook user nor a college student.  Still, I thought it was a fair and reasonable critique of social media, without being completely negative or dismissive.

So now that Touchstone has made it available online (and since colleges are about to begin another academic year), I though I'd draw your attention to it for your own consideration.  After providing thirteen reasons why he's not on Facebook, Baarendse draws the following conclusion:
You may think I’ve exaggerated some of these points. Perhaps I have. Yet I’m not trying to be mean-spirited or a fear-monger. I’m not even urging you to give up Facebook. I can see how an active Facebook account may be necessary for thriving in today’s world. No doubt it’s futile to wish our culture back to the technological simplicity of the Little House on the Prairie or Walden Pond. So be it. Then the question for Christians becomes: How do we use social media responsibly, especially in view of our calling as students? Answering this will require great discernment. At the very least, I would be especially wary of using it to air your personal laundry, or for chatting with a friend two rooms down the hall.

Given the ever-greater share of our waking moments that today’s virtual media demand, I think it’s important to discuss this issue as a learning community. Let’s agree that the danger doesn’t necessarily lie in our tools, but in our lack of self-control, which can make us the slave of our tools. Just as we can overeat in the cafeteria, so we can over-consume in our use of technology. Our hearts, Calvin helpfully reminds us, are idol-factories. Even good things can become addictive if not used in moderation. Here in college, you have a unique opportunity to focus your attention on learning. It’s a time for you to grow deep character roots and develop the resources of mind you will use for the rest of your life. But this kind of rich development might require that, for extended periods, you turn away from the 24/7 chatter that’s roaring down the Facebook pipe, clamoring for your attention.

If Oxford’s halls had been rigged with Wi-Fi and Facebook sixty years ago, would we have Narnia or Middle Earth? Lewis and Tolkien had a wonderful social network: the Inklings. They had a chat room: the Eagle and Child, where you could run your finger along the wood grain of the benches, hear the tinkle of cutlery, smell the smoke from Jack’s pipe, and catch an elfin twinkle in Tollers’s eye as he clears his throat and reads: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” The Inklings were real friends with real faces discussing real books. Is it wrong to lament a human loss here?
To read the entire letter, click here

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tim Hawkins' Ode to Chick-fil-A

Many of you have likely seen this video before, but with the recent controversy involving Chick-fil-A, I thought it was a good time to watch it again (and get a good laugh on a Monday).

Friday, August 10, 2012

By Faith the Promised Seed He Viewed

On Man, in His Own Image Made
John Newton, 1725-1807

On man, in His own image made,
How much did God bestow!
The whole creation homage paid,
And owned him lord below.

He dwelt in Eden's garden, stored
With sweets for every sense;
And there, with his descending Lord,
He walked in confidence.

But, oh, by sin how quickly changed!
His honor forfeited,
His heart from God and truth estranged,
His conscience filled with dread!

Now from His Maker's voice he flees,
Which was before his joy,
And thinks to hide, amid the trees,
From an all-seeing eye.

Compelled to answer to his name,
With stubbornness and pride,
He cast on God Himself the blame,
Nor once for mercy cried.

But grace, unasked, his heart subdued,
And all his guilt forgave;
By faith the promised Seed he viewed,
And felt His pow'r to save.

Thus we ourselves would justify,
Though we the law transgress;
Like him, unable to deny,
Unwilling to confess.

But when, by faith, the sinner sees
A pardon, bought with blood,
Then he forsakes his foolish pleas,
And gladly turns to God.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

No Arrogance Beside the Cross

As an illustration of cross-centered humility in one of his exegetical works, Don Carson tells of the opportunity he had to interview Dr. Carl Henry and Dr. Kenneth Kantzer, two of the most influential evangelical theologians in America in the last century.  Near the end of the interview, he asked them:
You two men have been extraordinarily influential for almost half a century.  Without wanting to indulge in cheap flattery, I must say that what is attractive about your ministries is that you have retained integrity.  Both of you are strong, yet neither of you is egotistical.  You have not succumbed to eccentricity in doctrine, nor to individualistic empire-building. In God's good grace, what has been instrumental in preserving you in these areas?
Carson then reports the following:
Both sputtered in deep embarrassment.  And then one of them ventured, with a kind of gentle outrage, "How on earth can anyone be arrogant when standing beside the cross?" 

Monday, August 6, 2012

DeYoung on the Three R's of Christian Engagement in the Culture War

Kevin DeYoung is not only a very gifted writer, he is also a balanced and thoughtful pastor-theologian.  His recent post regarding the cultural controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A and homosexual marriage is evidence of that.  He offers 3 R's for Christians as we consider how best to respond to this and similar situations.
  1. No retreat.
  2. No reversal.
  3. No reviling.
The entire post is brief, and his explanation of each R is well worth reading.  To do so, click here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Triumph in Almighty Grace

Stand Up, My Soul, Shake Off Thy Fears
Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

Stand up, my soul, shake off thy fears,
And gird the Gospel armor on,
March to the gates of endless joy,
Where thy great Captain-Savior’s gone.

Hell and thy sins resist thy course,
But hell and sin are vanquished foes;
Thy Jesus nailed them to the cross,
And sung the triumph when He rose.

What though the prince of darkness rage,
And waste the fury of his spite,
Eternal chains confine him down
To fiery deeps and endless night.

What though thine inward lusts rebel,
’Tis but a struggling gasp for life;
The weapons of victorious grace
Shall slay thy sins, and end the strife.

Then let my soul march boldly on,
Press forward to the heav’nly gate;
There peace and joy eternal reign,
And glitt’ring robes for conquerors wait.

There shall I wear a starry crown,
And triumph in almighty grace,
While all the armies of the skies
Join in my glorious Leader’s praise.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Liturgy of Narcissism

Paul Clark has a great post on the narcissistic mindset that marks much of what passes for worship these days.  Here are a few excerpts:
[A]iming for emotional manipulation simply to evoke feelings is valueless for Christian worship.  Oh, it can certainly be effective, even when it is completely lame.  Sadly, its most powerful effect may be that persons think just because they felt something, evoked by sad or glad songs, goosebump-producing video, or loudly authoritative preaching, they have had a spiritual encounter.  Placing the name of Christ in the midst of such emptiness seems nothing short of sacrilege.  Far too often the point of such liturgy is simply a view of self, albeit the self we think we want to see.  We start with a big song, move through stages to get to a “just me and God” moment.  If we get there, we fool ourselves to think we are satisfied, only to find we quickly thirst again.  And rightly so, for no religious feeling will ever suffice.


Biblical worship seeks to frame the connection of God and man.  Faith is rooted in Biblical truth.  God Incarnate is among the worshipers.  The Spirit’s work empowers Word, said and sung, to engage hearts and minds.  The resultant vision is Christ Jesus.  Worshipers depart to serve, patterning life and love after the One they have seen by light of Spirit and the Word.  Rather than seeing a “better me” I have seen a perfect, Risen Christ.

God, help us to form our worship that we may be formed to better see and reflect Jesus.
To read his post in its entirety, click here.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Missionary Heart of God

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.  --Isaiah 45:22
As beautiful a scene as the parade of nations was Friday evening during the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics, it will not compare with the true parade of nations that will one day take place before the throne of God (see Revelation 7:9-10).   

Friday, July 27, 2012

Thy Mercy Seat Is Open Still

Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul
Anne Steele, 1716-1778

Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee, when sorrows rise,
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.

To Thee I tell each rising grief,
For Thou alone canst heal;
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel.

But oh! when gloomy doubts prevail,
I fear to call Thee mine;
The springs of comfort seem to fail,
And all my hopes decline.

Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust;
And still my soul would cleave to Thee,
Though prostrate in the dust.

Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face,
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace,
Be deaf when I complain?

No; still the ear of sovereign grace
Attends the mourner's prayer;
Oh may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there!

Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat;
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vos's Metaphor for Progressive Revelation

The way Geerhardus Vos metaphorically describes progressive revelation and the relationship between the Testaments:
Old Testament prophecies and texts are like seeds and later Old Testament and New Testament understandings of the same texts are like plants growing from the seeds and flowering; from one angle the full-bloomed plant may not look like the seed (as in botanical comparisons), but careful exegesis of both Old and New contexts can show, at least, some of the organic connections.

--Quoted in G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Something about Crushing a Snake's Skull

A vivid reminder from Russell Moore about Jesus' clear understanding of his own identity as the Son of God and as the second Adam, as he moved from his baptism to his temptation in the wilderness:

"If you had stood there by the Jordan River, watching the scene at the baptism of Jesus, you might have braced yourself for a shock wave of glory. After all, the God of Israel had just unveiled - publicly, audibly, visually - his promised Messiah.  The villagers around you might have been chattering about great things - the overthrow of Rome, the throne of David, shock and awe.  You might have waited to watch this new king unleash his Spirit power.  Instead, though, you would see him shake out the water from his hair, pause and look at the mud on the bank, and then walk off toward the desert.  As he passed by you, you might have heard him whisper to himself, something about crushing a snake's skull.  Jesus knows who he is."

--Russell Moore, Tempted and Tried 

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Weakest Saint Has Power Upon His Knees

What Various Hindrances We Meet
William Cowper, 1731-1800

What various hindrances we meet
In coming to a mercy seat;
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there.

Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright;
And Satan trembles, when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.

While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
Success was found on Israel’s side;
But when through weariness they failed,
That moment Amalek prevailed.

Have you no words? Ah, think again,
Words flow apace when you complain;
And fill your fellow creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.

Were half the breath thus vainly spent,
To Heav’n in supplication sent;
Your cheerful song would oft’ner be,
Hear what the Lord has done for me.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Timothy George on Lessons from the Mainline Decline

Timothy George offers helpful and insightful analysis in his recent article, 3 Lessons from Crisis and Decline in the Mainline.  His three main lessons are:
  1. There is an intrinsic connection between spiritual vitality and theological integrity.
  2. The continuing saga and approaching collapse of mainline denominations should prompt us to pray.
  3. Evangelicals have no room to boast or gloat over the "sickness unto death" in the mainlines.
Here is an excerpt:
The debate over homosexual practices within the mainline denominations is not the root cause but only the presenting issue....At the heart of this issue is a broken doctrine of biblical authority, a loss of confidence in the primary documents of the Christian faith....The church and the Bible are coinherent realities in the economy of grace. One will not long survive intact without the other.
Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Word to Fellow Preachers on Using Hymns as Illustrations

If you are a preacher and you do not use the texts of hymns (ancient or modern) to illustrate the truths you preach, you are failing to take advantage of an incredibly helpful and powerful means of illustration.  I say this for at least five reasons.
  1. Hymn texts, and especially familiar hymn texts, often have deep emotional roots in the hearts of believers, which makes them particularly effective for vividly illustrating a biblical truth. 
  2. Hymn texts are poetic in nature, and poetry can have a strong oratorical effect. 
  3. Hymn texts, in and of themselves, teach us something theologically (sometimes good, sometimes bad).  Though we preachers may not like to admit it, most people learn more theology from the songs they sing than the sermons they hear.  So, why not utilize the good ones to help teach them the truth that they are singing, and how the truth in that song is based on the truth of God's Word?  This helps connect the biblical and theological dots for your hearers - both in the biblical text and in the hymn that they may have sung hundreds of times before but never really thought about until you pointed it out to them.   
  4. Hymn texts that are used well in a sermon illustration will be sung with much more understanding the next time around.  Using that text as an illustration makes that hymn even more meaningful for your hearers, which means you are helping strengthen and reinforce the importance of congregational singing (as well as the importance of singing good theology).
  5. Hymn texts that are quoted in a sermon, when those hymns either have been sung or will be sung in the same service, unifies the worship experience and teaches the congregation something about the holistic nature of public worship.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Let Your Books Be Your Friends

A great quote passed on to me by a church member who is a fellow book-lover:
If you cannot read all your books, at any rate...peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are.  Let them be your friends; let them be your acquaintances.

--Winston Churchill 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Meditating on Mercies Multiplied

Psalm 16, from the 1912 Psalter

When in the night I meditate
On mercies multiplied,
My grateful heart inspire my tongue
To bless the LORD, my guide.

Forever in my thought the LORD
Before my face shall stand;
Secure, unmoved, I shall remain,
With Him at my right hand.

My inmost being thrills with joy
And gladness fills my breast;
Because on Him my trust is stayed,
My flesh in hope shall rest.

I know that I shall not be left
Forgotten in the grave,
That from corruption, Thou, O LORD,
Thy holy one wilt save.

The path of life Thou showest me;
Of joy a boundless store
Is ever found at Thy right hand,
And pleasures evermore.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Hopeful Future for the Southern Baptist Convention

The Baptist & Reflector, our state Baptist paper, was kind enough to run an article I recently wrote on "Signs of a Hopeful Future for the SBC." 

To read it, click here.

There will be another one next week on "Signs of a Hopeful Future for the TBC." 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday Morning Encouragement for Preachers

This is intended to encourage those of you who preached yesterday (and for those of you who listened to someone preach yesterday, here's some insight into how we preachers often feel...and how you can pray for us).
Few preachers who preach God's Word feel great when the sermon's done. I'm usually thinking about everything I didn't have time to say or even a few things I did say that I wish I hadn't.  Then the time for the benediction slips up on me, I give it, and then I sneak to the back door to talk with people as they walk out. Sometimes people come to talk, and I'm humbled and encouraged by the ways they say the Lord used the sermon in their lives. Other times no one says much of anything, which bothers me more than I wish it did.

But the immediate feedback - as much as we crave the instant gratification - isn't the point. A pastorate is made up of a lot of sermons, and the fact is, most of those sermons are going to be singles rather than triples or home runs. But that's fine. If the Lord is so kind as to give you even a long string of singles, that's purely of His grace, and your congregation will benefit and grow from that. You score runs with a string of singles. So don't worry if you haven't hit a home run in a while - and if you hit one today, don't get cocky! Either way, go home, rest, thank God for the grace He gave you to teach and encourage His people again, take some time off, and then start the whole process over the next week. Our God is a good God, and week after week, sermon after sermon, He will give grace and strength and insight to the men who preach His Word.

--Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Flow My Praise, Forever Flow

Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee
Robert Robinson, 1735-1790

Mighty God, while angels bless Thee,
May a mortal sing Thy name?
Lord of men as well as angels,
Thou art every creature’s theme.
Lord of every land and nation,
Ancient of eternal days.
Sounded through the wide creation
Be Thy just and endless praise.

For the grandeur of Thy nature,
Grand beyond a seraph’s thought;
For the wonders of creation,
Works with skill and kindness wrought.
For Thy providence, that governs,
Through Thine empire’s wide domain,
Wings an angel, guides a sparrow,
Blessed be Thy gentle reign.

For Thy rich, Thy free redemption,
Bright, though veiled in darkness long,
Thought is poor, and poor expression;
Who can sing that wondrous song?
Brightness of the Father’s glory,
Shall Thy praise unuttered lie?
Break, my tongue, such guilty silence!
Sing the Lord who came to die.

From the highest throne of glory
To the cross of deepest woe,
All to ransom guilty captives;
Flow my praise, forever flow!
Reascend, immortal Savior;
Leave Thy footstool, take Thy throne;
Thence return, and reign forever,
Be the kingdom all Thine own!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Honoring God Before Country

As Christians and Americans, we must learn to practice patriotism without succumbing to nationalism.  That was what many Christians in Germany during the reign of the Nazis failed to learn.  Let us not make the same mistake.  I hope that what I've written below will serve to help remind us where our ultimate loyalties truly lie.      
Honoring God Before Country
As we celebrate the independence of our great nation, we acknowledge God's bountiful blessings and providential care throughout our history.

We acknowledge the courageous and sacrificial service of so many men and women who fought, and are fighting, for the freedoms we enjoy and so often take for granted. With deep gratitude, we recognize and remember those who gave their lives defending those freedoms.

We acknowledge those who have gone before us to help shape and form these United States.

And we acknowledge the wonderful opportunities and benefits afforded to us simply by being American.

But as Christians, while still being grateful and mindful of this wonderful nation of ours, we celebrate a far greater freedom today - freedom from sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus on this day it becomes especially important for us to remember and confess that we are Christians first, then Americans.

We acknowledge God before country; the glory of God before Old Glory; and the Bible before the Declaration of Independence. Our primary loyalty is to Jesus Christ and his kingdom, which is made up of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

So we proclaim today that "our citizenship is in heaven, and from there we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20).

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Most Urgent Need of the Church

A great reminder from one of the greatest preachers of the last century and from one of my favorite books on preaching:
I would say without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.

--D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

Friday, June 29, 2012

We Read Thee Best in Christ

O Love of God, How Strong and True
Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889

O love of God, how strong and true!
Eternal, and yet ever new;
Uncomprehended and unbought,
Beyond all knowledge and all thought.

O love of God, how deep and great!
Far deeper than man’s deepest hate;
Self fed, self kindled, like the light,
Changeless, eternal, infinite.

O heavenly love, how precious still,
In days of weariness and ill,
In nights of pain and helplessness,
To heal, to comfort, and to bless!

O wide embracing, wondrous love!
We read thee in the sky above,
We read thee in the earth below,
In seas that swell, and streams that flow.

We read thee best in Him who came
To bear for us the cross of shame;
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our life to live, our death to die.

We read thy power to bless and save,
E’en in the darkness of the grave;
Still more in resurrection light,
We read the fullness of thy might.

O love of God, our shield and stay
Through all the perils of our way!
Eternal love, in Thee we rest
Forever safe, forever blest.

Thanks to a church member for bringing this hymn to my attention.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Whole Church Aroused to Sacred Energy

"Great things are done by the Holy Spirit when a whole church is aroused to sacred energy."

--Charles Spurgeon

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mohler's Reflections on the 2012 SBC in New Orleans

Al Mohler offers his reflections on last week's Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, organized around eight areas of importance:
  1. The importance of meeting in New Orleans
  2. The importance of electing Fred Luter as President
  3. The importance of leadership
  4. The importance of our name
  5. The importance of doctrine
  6. The importance of our mission
  7. The importance of the total event
  8. The importance of getting to work
To read the details and see his reflections in their entirety, click here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Stretch Forth Thy Condescending Arm

Beneath Thy Mighty Hand, O God
Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751

Beneath Thy mighty hand, O God,
Our souls we prostrate low;
Shine forth with gentle radiant beams,
That we Thy name may know.

Thy hand this various frame produced,
And still supports it well;
That hand with justice and with ease,
Might smite our souls to hell.

Conscious of meanness and of guilt,
We in the dust would lie;
Stretch forth Thy condescending arm,
And lift the humble high.

So in the temples of Thy grace
We'll sovereign mercy own;
And when we shine above the stars,
Extol Thy grace alone.

The more Thou raise such sinful dust,
The lower would it fall;
For less than nothing, Lord, are we,
And Thou art all in all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Faith, Prayer, and the Word of God

"Prayer and faith, the universal remedies against every want and every difficulty; and the nourishment of prayer and faith, God's holy Word, helped me over all the difficulties.  I never remember, in all my Christian course, a period now of sixty-nine years and four months, that I ever sincerely and patiently sought to know the will of God by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, through the instrumentality of the Word of God, but I have been always directed rightly.  But if honesty of heart and uprightness before God were lacking, or if I did not patiently wait upon God for instruction, or if I preferred the counsel of my fellow men to the declarations of the Word of the living God, I made great mistakes."

--George Mueller

Monday, June 18, 2012

Boot Camp for Christian Writers

Interested in writing?  Curious about what it takes to get your articles, essays, or book ideas published?  Then the Boot Camp for Christian Writers might just be the encouragement and the know-how you need to get started.

Boot Camp for Christian Writers
Taught by Carolyn Tomlin and Denise George
"Writing-to-Publish: The Basic Foundations"
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Union University's Luther Hall
Jackson, TN
$139 (includes snacks, box lunch, and handout materials)

Session 1 - The Publishing Opportunities That Await You (C. Tomlin)
Session 2 - How to Choose Your Reading Audience (D. George)
Session 3 - How to Find Great Ideas to Write About (C. Tomlin)
Session 4 - How to Write Clearly and Effectively to Your Chosen Audience (D. George)

Boot Camp for Christian Writers is a no-nonsense, basic, information-packed, all-day seminar that educates and equips Christian writers to write clearly, communicate effectively to a chosen audience, professionally approach magazine editors and book publishers with good ideas, and get articles and books published.  Founded and taught by authors Denise George (author of 27 books and more than 1500 magazine articles) and Carolyn Tomlin (author of 10 books and more than 3600 magazine articles). 

To register, email Carolyn Tomlin at  

Friday, June 15, 2012

In Grace His Brightest Glories Shine

All Nature Spreads, With Open Blaze
Ralph Erskine, 1685-1752

All nature spreads, with open blaze,
Her Maker's name abroad;
And every work of His displays
The power and skill of God.

But in the grace that rescued man,
His brightest glory shines;
Here on the cross 'tis fairest drawn,
In precious bloody lines.

Here His whole name appears complete;
And who can guess or prove,
Which of the letters best are writ,
The wisdom, power, or love?

Justice and mercy, truth and grace,
In all their sweetest charms,
Here met, and joined their kind embrace,
With everlasting arms.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Moving Toward Doxology

Here is a recent conversation I had with Dr. Timothy George on the Beeson Podcast about life, ministry, and writing hymns.  Or you can click here to access it through iTunes ("Moving Toward Doxology," June 5).

To hear the sermon I preached on the Trinity in Beeson Divinity School Chapel, which is referenced in the podcast, click here.     

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Just the Kind of Providential Irony Our God Loves

Russell Moore has a great post on the expected election next week of the Southern Baptist Convention's first African-American president and on how providentially ironic it is. Here are a few excerpts:
As I write this, news reports tell us that we just might see, by the time you read this, the election of the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is significant for all sorts of reasons: one being, of course, that the SBC was founded, partly, to protect the “right” of slaveholders to be missionaries. It’s important also because it’s a test for whether the SBC will go forward with the gospel and mission we say we believe.


I’m thrilled about where God might be taking the SBC. A denomination formed to protect slavery led by a descendant of slaves, that’s just the kind of providential irony our God loves. Maybe it will prompt our denomination to stop seeing non-white people as opportunities for “ethnic ministry,” and prompt us to see there opportunities to find our leaders. Maybe seeing a non-white face with the gavel of the SBC might remind us that the Man we’ll see on the Judgment Seat, well, he isn’t a white guy either.
Read the post in its entirety here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Talking Back with the Truth

A great reminder to talk back to sin with the truth of the gospel:
Nobody sins because they want to be deceived.  We sin because we believe what sin offers is true....Sin lies to us.  We need to get in the habit of talking back with the truth.
--Jonathan Dodson, Gospel-Centered Discipleship

Friday, June 8, 2012

Give Me Thyself, the Only Good

My Soul, Canst Thou No Higher Rise?
Augustus Toplady, 1740-1778

My soul, canst thou no higher rise,
To meet thy God, than this?
Yet, Lord, accept my sacrifice,
Defective as it is.

Tune all my organs to Thy praise,
And psalmist's muse impart;
And, with Thy penetrating rays,
Oh, melt my frozen heart.

Give me Thyself, the only good,
And ever with me stay;
Whose faithful mercies are renewed
With each returning day.

Ah, guide me with a Father's eye,
Nor from my soul depart;
But let the Daystar from on high
Illuminate my heart.

Far as east from west remove
Each earthly vain desire,
And raise me on the wings of love,
Till I can mount no higher.