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.