Monday, December 30, 2013

My Last Poem of 2013

Strangely Familiar
M. Justin Wainscott, 2013

If I must die, and die I must,
son of Adam that I am,
and if my death is not
untimely or unexpected,
then, if it can be arranged,
and it's not too much trouble,
let it be in a familiar place,
surrounded by familiar people,
singing familiar hymns,
and reading familiar promises
from that most familiar of Books;
because, though I've never been there,
I believe I'll find the Celestial City
somehow strangely familiar.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Condescenion of the Christ

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.

Yes, 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 25, 2013

Good News of Great Joy

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Spread Gospel Tidings All Around

Immortal God in Mortal Flesh
Advent 2008, M. Justin Wainscott

Immortal God in mortal flesh,
Our Lord has come to earth.
Incarnate God, He came to bring
The gift of second birth.

Spread gospel tidings all around;
Let sinners celebrate!
For Christ was born to save us all
From sin's condemning fate.

In mercy, God has sent His Son
To bear the curse of sin;
To hang condemned on Calv'ry's cross,
And pardon sinful men.

This precious Babe of Bethlehem
Will be forever blessed;
He ransomed us from hell's domain
To enter heaven's rest.

So to our great Immanuel,
Glad songs of praise we'll sing.
From now and through eternity,
He'll reign, our saving King.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Cradle and the Cross

"The crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary, and we do not understand it till we see it in this context."

--J.I. Packer, Knowing God

HT: Of First Importance

Friday, December 20, 2013

Marvel in the Mystery

All People of the Coming King
© 2010, 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!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Handel and Humor

Check out these silent monks "singing" the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where Thrones Shake and the Mighty Fall

"For the great and powerful powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged."

--From Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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 13, 2013

Rise, the Woman's Conqu'ring 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.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home!
Rise, the Woman's conqu'ring Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent's head!
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

Adam's likeness, Lord, efface;
Stamp Thine image in its place;
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love!
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Heavenly Man:
Oh, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart!
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rethinking Our Holly-Jolly Christmas Songs

Russell Moore reminds us in this article why it's important to remember that "We have a rich and complicated and often appropriately dark Christmas hymnody."
Of course, some of the blame is on our sentimentalized Christmas of the American civil religion. Simeon the prophet never wished anyone a “holly-jolly Christmas” or envisioned anything about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But there’s our songs too, the songs of the church. We ought to make sure that what we sing measures up with the, as this fellow would put it, “narrative tension” of the Christmas story.

The first Christmas carol, after all, was a war hymn. Mary of Nazareth sings of God’s defeat of his enemies, about how in Christ he had demonstrated his power and “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk. 1:52). There are some villains in mind there.

Simeon’s song, likewise, speaks of the “fall and rising of many in Israel” and of a sword that would pierce the heart of Mary herself. Even the “light of the Gentiles” he speaks about is in the context of warfare. After all, the light, the Bible tells us, overcomes the darkness (Jn. 1:5), and frees us from the grip of the devil (2 Cor. 4).
Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tony Reinke on "The Allure of Middle-Earth"

Tony Reinke reminds us that the allure of J.R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth is that we are actually made for a King.
As much as we modern, king-rejecting, independents may reject the thought, we really do know we were made to be ruled, made to be governed by a perfectly righteous King, a king worthy of all our obedience and service, who will finally usher in perfect peace and unleash rivers of joyful abundance so great that piles of gold coins will fade to metaphor.

This is the allure of Middle-earth.

We are drawn to Middle-earth by this swelling, ungratified longing for the Day when the true King will return to evict the vile dragon and reclaim the land he has, in reality, always possessed (2 Timothy 4:8).
Read the entire article here

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Handel's Messiah at FBC Jackson

For those of you in and around West Tennessee, I wanted to make you aware that we at First Baptist Jackson will be presenting Handel's Messiah next Sunday, December 15, at 6:00 PM.  We'd love to have you join us!

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Five Things to Teach Your Children This Christmas

Christina Fox, in a recent Desiring God article, gives us five things to teach our children this Christmas. Here are those five things:
1.  The Story of Redemption

2.  The Humility of Christ

3.  God Works through Weakness

4.  God Keeps His Promises

5.  The Names of Christ
For further explanation and to read the entire article, click here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Timothy Paul Jones on "Why Celebrate Advent?"

Yesterday marked the beginning of the season of Advent, which means this article from Timothy Paul Jones on Why Celebrate Advent? comes just in time. 
In Advent, Christians embrace the groaning and recognize it not as hopeless whimpering over the paucity of the present moment but as expectant yearning for a divine banquet that Jesus is preparing for us even now. In Advent, the church admits, as poet R.S. Thomas has put it, that “the meaning is in the waiting.” And what we await is a final Advent that is yet to come. Just as the ancient Israelites waited for the coming of the Messiah in flesh, we await the consummation of the good news through the Messiah’s return in glory. In Advent, believers confess that the infant who drew his first ragged breath between a virgin’s knees has yet to speak his final word.
Read the entire article here

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

8 Profitable Ways to Read the Bible

Take this counsel to is profitable, indeed. I'm grateful to one of our church members for passing it along for me to post here.

1. Begin reading your Bible this very day. The way to do a thing is to do it; and the way to read the Bible is actually to read it! It is not merely meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it , which will advance you one step. You must positively read. There is no royal road in this matter, any more than in the matter of prayer. If you cannot read yourself, you must persuade somebody else to read it to you. But one way or another, through eyes or ears, the words of Scripture must actually pass before your mind.
2. Read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand it. Do not think for a moment, that the great object is to turn over a certain quantity of printed paper, and that it matters nothing whether you understand it or not. Some ignorant people seem to imagine, that all is done if they advance so many chapters every day, though they may not have a notion what they are all about, and only know that they have pushed on their bookmark ahead so many pages. This is turning Bible reading into a mere ritual form. Settle it down in your mind as a general principle, that a Bible not understood is a Bible that does no good! Say to yourself often as you read, “What is this all about?” Dig for the meaning like a man digging for gold.
3. Read the Bible with child-like faith and humility. Open your heart as you open God’s book, and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!” Resolve to believe implicitly whatever you find there, however much it may run counter to your own desires and prejudices. Resolve to receive heartily every statement of truth, whether you like it or not. Beware of that miserable habit into which some readers of the Bible fall, they receive some doctrines because they like them; and they reject others because they are condemning to themselves, or to some relation, or friend. At this rate, the Bible is useless! Are we to be judges of what ought to be in God’s Word? Do we know better than God? Settle it down in your mind that you will receive all and believe all, and that what you cannot understand, you will take on trust. Remember, when you pray that you are speaking to God, and God hears you. But, remember, when you read Scripture that God is speaking to you, and you are not to “dictate,” but to listen!
4. Read the Bible in a spirit of obedience and self-application. Sit down to the study of it with a daily determination that you will live by its rules, rest on its statements, and act on its commands. Consider, as you travel through every chapter, “How does this affect my thinking and daily conduct? What does this teach me?” It is poor work to read the Bible from mere curiosity, and for speculative purposes in order to fill your head and store your mind with mere opinions; while you do not allow the book to influence your heart and life. That Bible is read best which is practiced most!
5. Read the Bible daily. Make it a part of every day’s business to read and meditate on some portion of God’s Word. Private means of grace are just as needful every day for our souls as food and clothing are for our bodies. Yesterday’s food will not feed the laborer today; and today’s food will not feed the laborer tomorrow. Do as the Israelites did in the wilderness. Gather your manna fresh every morning. Choose your own seasons and hours. Do not scramble over and hurry your reading. Give your Bible the best, and not the worst part of your time! But whatever plan you pursue, let it be a rule of your life to visit the throne of grace and God’s Word every day.
6. Read all of the Bible and read it in an orderly way. I fear there are many parts of the Word which some people never read at all. This is to say at the least, a very presumptuous habit. “All Scripture is profitable.” [2 Timothy 3:16]. To this habit may be traced that lack of well-proportioned views of truth, which is so common in this day. Some people’s Bible-reading is a system of perpetual ‘dipping and picking’. They do not seem to have an idea of regularly going through the whole book.
7. Read the Bible fairly and honestly. Determine to take everything in its plain, obvious meaning and regard all forced interpretations with great suspicion. As a general rule, whatever a verse of the Bible seems to mean it does mean! Cecil’s rule is a very valuable one, “The right way of interpreting Scripture is to take it as we find it, without any attempt to force it into any particular theological system.”
8. Read the Bible with Christ continually in view. The grand primary object of all Scripture, is to testify of Jesus! Old Testament ceremonies are shadows of Christ. Old Testament judges are types of Christ. Old Testament prophecies are full of Christ’s sufferings, and of Christ’s glory yet to come. The first coming and the second; the Lord’s humiliation and His glorious kingdom; His cross and the crown shine forth everywhere in the Bible. Keep fast hold on this clue, if you would read the Bible aright!
I might easily add to these hints, if space permitted. Few and short as they are you will find them most profitable when implemented.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Make Thy Word Take Root

This is a wonderful prayer to pray and/or sing after hearing God's Word preached or taught.

Guardian of Thy Helpless Sheep
Joseph Hart, 1712-1768

Guardian of Thy helpless sheep,
Jesus, Almighty Lord,
Help our heedful hearts to keep
The treasure of Thy Word;
Let not Satan steal what's sown;
Bid it bring forth precious fruit;
Thou can soften hearts of stone,
And make Thy word take root.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

70 x 7 - The Most Difficult Math Problem in the Universe

Russell Moore's brief but excellent article on "Why It's Hard to Forgive."
The most difficult math problem in the universe, it turns out, is 70 x 7. Perhaps the hardest thing to do in the Christian life is to forgive someone who has hurt you, often badly. But Jesus says the alternative to forgiving one’s enemies is hell.

One of the reasons this is hard for us is because we too often assume forgiving a trespasser means allowing an injustice to stand. This attitude betrays a defective eschatology. At our Lord’s arrest (Matt. 26:47-54), Jesus told Peter to put his sword back into his sheath not because Jesus didn’t believe in punishing evildoers (think Armageddon). Jesus told Peter he could have an armada of angelic warriors at his side (and one day he will). But judgment was not yet, and Peter wasn’t judge.

That’s the point.

When we forgive, we are confessing that vengeance is God’s (Rom. 12:19). We don’t need to exact justice from a fellow believer because justice has already fallen at the cross. We don’t need to exact vengeance from an unbeliever because we know the sin against us will be judged in hell or, more hopefully, when the offender unites himself to the One who is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2).

A prisoner of war who forgives his captor or a terminated pastor who forgives a predatory congregation, these people are not overlooking sin. Nor are they saying that what happened is “okay” or that the relationships involved are back to “normal” (whatever that is). Instead they are confessing that judgment is coming and they can trust the One who will be seated on that throne.

You don’t have to store up bitterness, and you don’t have to find ways of retaliation for what’s been done to you. You can trust a God who is just. If you won’t forgive, if you refuse to rest in God’s judgment without seeking to retaliate, it doesn’t matter what your evangelistic tracts and prophecy charts say. When it comes to the gospel and the to the end times, you’re just another liberal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cosper on "Why Do We Sing?"

Mike Cosper reminds us that singing is a gift of a creation with formational effects in this article from The Gospel Coalition site on Why Do We Sing?
At its best, congregational music is a marriage of truth, beauty, and action. Songs that are clear and comprehensible to a congregation, loaded with biblical truth, are set to music that "paints" that text emotionally. By singing with the church, I'm putting truth and beauty into action within me. I'm confessing the truth as I experience its effects. I am "speaking the truth in love" with the church, which as David Peterson points out, is not a reference to interpersonal confrontation, but communal confession. We speak the truth in love when we join our voice with the church, singing together of who God is and what he's done.

In singing, the whole person is engaged. In congregational singing, the whole person is engaged and united with the community around us. This practice takes on its greatest meaning in the church, where that unity shapes and reorients a covenant community to the story of the gospel. When the church sings a lament together, the words and music share the sense of sorrow and anguish of those who are suffering. When they sing a celebratory anthem, the music helps them emotionally taste hope and victory.

It is dangerous to pursue the emotional effect of music without rooting it in the content of God's Word. But it's also dangerous to pretend that music's emotional effects are unimportant or dangerous in themselves. To be stirred by singing is to be human, and it's a means of grace to God's church that such a gift is so easily accessible. You don't even need rock band, or a pipe organ, or a guy with a faux hawk and an acoustic guitar. You just need a song and a reason to sing.
Click here to read the entire article. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Vict'ry Song That Shakes the Gates of Hell

Below is the text to a hymn I was asked to write for the evening worship session at the annual gathering of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. This hymn served as a follow-up to a challenge given by Executive Director, Randy Davis, on "Impacting Lostness in Tennessee" that featured a story about a salvation bell (hence the imagery in the hymn). Special thanks to my friend, Paul Clark, for his encouragement and assistance, and for leading the congregation in singing it.

Salvation's Tolling Bell
Justin Wainscott

‘Twas grace that tuned my ears to hear
Salvation’s tolling bell;
How sweet it sounded in my ears,
And sweet its echo still.

But how I long to hear it more,
That sweet, salvation bell;
To hear it ring from shore to shore,
The gospel’s triumph tell.

So, let me share with ev’ry soul
The news that Jesus saves;
Then let that bell begin to toll,
And sound the Savior’s praise.

Oh, let a harvest of the lost
Be saved and gathered in;
And let the glories of the cross
Ring o’er and o’er again.

Oh, let that bell ring loud and strong,
Oh, let its ringing swell;
And let it raise a vict’ry song
That shakes the gates of hell.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Two New Books I'm Looking Forward to Reading

Here are a couple of new books that I'm looking forward to reading:

What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns, Jim Hamilton 

The Bible recounts a single story—one that began at creation, encompasses our lives today, and will continue till Christ’s return and beyond. In What Is Biblical Theology?, Jim Hamilton introduces us to this narrative, helping us understand the worldview of the biblical writers so that we can read the Old and New Testaments as the original authors intended. Tracing the key patterns, symbols, and themes that bind the Bible together, this book will help you understand Scripture’s unified message and find your place in the great story of redemption.

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts, Douglas Bond

The focus of this next volume in "The Long Line of Godly Men Profile Series" is upon the preeminent English hymn writer Isaac Watts. In an age of simplistic and repetitive worship songs, the church must not forget the Father of English Hymnody. In this profile of the great hymn writer, Douglas Bond writes that Watts life and words can enrich the lives and worship of Christians today. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

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!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Luther Before the Diet of Worms

As much as October 31, 1517, and Luther's tacking of the 95 Theses  are celebrated as the beginning of the Reformation, in many ways, this was actually the moment that Protestant Christianity was born - the Diet of Worms in 1521.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Morning Star of the Reformation

This has to be one of my favorite pictures of the era just prior to the Reformation. It is a portrait of John Wycliffe (known as "The Morning Star of the Reformation"), who laid the groundwork for folks like Luther and Tyndale. Notice Wycliffe resisting the Roman Catholic authorities and clinging ever so tightly to his English Bible - something for which he eventually would be martyred.

This portrait says a lot about the significance of the time period leading up to and including the Reformation, and it speaks volumes about the incredible treasure of having the Bible translated in your own language. Thanks be to God for raising up men like John Wycliffe!

Here is the plaque that accompanies the painting at St. James Clerkenwell.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What the Reformation Was Really About

With Reformation Day quickly approaching, I thought a week full of posts related to the Reformation would be appropriate. Here's a quote from Michael Reeves about what the Reformation was really about:
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 25, 2013

A Hymn in Honor of Reformation Sunday

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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

DeYoung on "How to Be Better Bereans"

Kevin DeYoung has a three-part series of very helpful posts on ten ways to be better Bereans.
The Jews in Berea, it is said, were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). How telling–for them and for us–that nobility is measured not by titles, land, parentage, wealth, or degrees, but by how we handle the word of God. Our approach to the Scriptures sets us apart as riff-raff or royalty.

So how do we become better Bereans?
He posted three ways on Tuesday, four today, and will post the final three tomorrow.
Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Check back there on Thursday for the final three

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sinners' Never Ceasing Praise

Sinners’ Never-Ceasing Praise
M. Justin Wainscott

O Christ, our true and living Head,
Our Savior and our God;
You suffered in the sinner’s stead,
And bought us with your blood.
What tribute fits this blood-bought grace,
But sinners’ never-ceasing praise?

Your precious blood has washed away
The stain of guilt and sin;
Now Satan’s left with naught to say,
And we have peace within.
What tribute fits this pard’ning grace,
But sinners’ never-ceasing praise?

Though holy wrath was once our dread,
Our punishment You bore;
Because Your sinless blood was shed,
God’s wrath we dread no more!
What tribute fits this matchless grace,
But sinners’ never-ceasing praise?

This saving act of Triune love,
Achieved by God the Son,
Gives substance to the songs above,
Sung to the Three in One.
What tribute fits this saving grace,
But sinners’ never-ceasing praise?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gary Thomas on "Why Killing Spiders Makes My Marriage Better"

Excellent counsel from Gary Thomas: marital intimacy requires agreeing to kill certain things that bug our spouse, just because they bug our spouse. Read what he means when he says killing spiders makes his marriage better.

If you're married, it's worth the few minutes it will take for you to read this:
Why Killing Spiders Makes My Marriage Better
 In fact, you may need to bookmark it and re-read it every so often!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Luther on Faith

From Michael Reeves' The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation:
Faith, thought Luther, is not some inner resource we summon up....For him, the question, "Have I got enough faith?" completely misunderstands what faith is, by looking to and so relying on itself, rather than Christ. Faith is a passive thing, simply accepting, receiving, believing Christ - taking God seriously in what he promises in the gospel.

Friday, October 11, 2013

His Pardoning Voice I Hear

Arise, My Soul, Arise
Charles Wesley, 1707-1788

Arise, my soul, arise;
Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice
In my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

Five bleeding wounds He bears;
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers;
They strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray,
His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away,
The presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled;
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child;
I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Are You "Crazy Busy"?

Many of us live our lives frantically, feeling like we are always in a hurry. It seems that there is never enough time to do all that we need to do. In fact, you might be thinking to yourself at this very moment, “I really don’t have time to read this right now. I have too much to do.”

If that sounds like your life, then you need to get your hands on a copy of Kevin DeYoung’s new book, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem. It's a brief, well-written, humorous book about busyness, infused with common sense as well as biblical and theological wisdom.

Here's the gist (but I really do recommend reading it yourself...unless you're just too busy!).


DeYoung begins by discussing three dangers that we must be aware of:
  1. Busyness can ruin your joy 
  2. Busyness can rob your heart 
  3. Busyness can cover up the rot in your soul 
While busyness can certainly have a negative effect on our physical bodies, the most serious threats are spiritual. Put simply, busyness sets our souls at risk.


The next section of the book deals with seven different diagnoses of busyness.
  1. You are beset with many manifestations of pride (i.e., people-pleasing, pats on the back, performance, possessions, proving yourself, pity, power, perfectionism, prestige, posting [social media]). 
  2. You are trying to do what God does not expect you to do (helpful counsel for those of us who think we need to do everything and feel guilty because we can’t). 
  3. You can't serve others without setting priorities (everything we can do is not everything we ought to do). 
  4. You need to stop freaking out about your kids. Parents, consider these quotes: “[O]ne of the best things we can do for our kids is to find a way to stop being so frantic and frazzled” and “Our children are suffering from ‘secondhand stress.’” 
  5.  You are letting the screen strangle your soul (“For many of us, the Web is like The Eagles' Hotel California: we can check out any time we like, but we can never leave”). 
  6. You'd better rest yourself before you wreck yourself (great discussion on the importance of rhythm and routine to our daily and weekly lives, the importance of sleep, and the importance of the Sabbath). 
  7.  You suffer more because you don't expect to suffer at all. (We're going to be busy if we're serving God and others, so we must remember that to serve is to suffer.) 

The book ends with a reminder that there is one thing we must do to counteract the crazy busyness of our lives: we must devote ourselves to the Word of God and prayer. As DeYoung himself testifies, “I can tell you that no single practice brings more peace and discipline to life than sitting at the feet of Jesus.” What he states on the last page of the book sums it up well: “We won't say 'no' to more craziness until we can say 'yes' to more Jesus.” Amen!

Friday, October 4, 2013

O What Peace We Often Forfeit

What A Friend We Have in Jesus
Joseph Scriven, 1819-1886

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you;
You will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded
There will be no need for prayer.
Rapture, praise and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Cultural, Congregational, and Convictional Christians

Ed Stetzer offers a helpful perspective on all the recent statistics from polls and surveys regarding the Church in America in this Christianity Today blog post, The State of the Church in America: Hint: It's Not Dying.  He distinguishes between what he calls cultural, congregational, and convictional Christians. Here's an excerpt:
The church is not dying.

Yes, the church in the West—the United States included—is in transition right now. But transitioning is not the same as dying, particularly if you hold the belief that Christianity is represented by people who live for Christ, not check "Christian" on a survey form.

While I believe we need to understand reality inside our ranks, I don't believe the situation is quite as dire as many are making it out to be. Actually, no serious researcher believes Christianity in America is dying. Not one.

Instead, I believe this current cultural shift is bringing clarity that will assist in defining who we are as Christians, and that is a good thing in some ways.


Facts are our friends, and the facts do point to a cultural change. And, in the midst of that cultural change we do see that America looks more like a mission field. However, what we need is a mobilized—rather than demoralized—mission force.

Bad stats and hyperbole do just that—demoralize God's people.

Today, we need a mobilized mission force in the midst of this mission field. So, it's time to work for the sake of the gospel, and to live for the cause of the gospel, not run around proclaiming the sky is falling.
Click here to read the post in its entirety.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Conversation on Reaching the Unreached

9Marks has posted the audio of a roundtable discussion on the Great Commission, sending, calling, prayer, patience, and more with David Platt, Mack Stiles, Al Mohler, and Kevin DeYoung.  Listen to it here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Conversion Hymn

I Once Was Dead in Sin and Strife
M. Justin Wainscott, 2008

I was once was dead in sin and strife,
And knew no will but mine;
But God has quickened me to life
By sovereign grace divine!

To base desires I was a slave,
And under their control;
But Jesus Christ is strong to save;
He freed my shackled soul!

Although my heart was hard as stone,
And vile with ev’ry beat;
For all my sins Christ has atoned.
In Him I stand complete!

My blinded eyes were shut by sin,
The dark my only sight;
But God, in mercy, opened them,
And flooded me with light!

My lifeless tongue was resting lame,
No words my mouth could bring;
Till on my lips God put His name,
And loosed my tongue to sing!

And sing I shall to Christ my King,
My Savior and my God;
Loud praises I will ever bring.
I’ll glory in His blood!

And when from earth I shall depart,
And when it’s time to die;
I’ll join the saints and sing my part
In songs of praise on high!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Precious Treasure of the Bible

"What a precious treasure God has committed into our hands in that he has given us the Bible. How little do most persons consider how much they enjoy in that they have the possession of that holy book....What an excellent book is this, and how far exceeding all human writings....He that has a Bible, and doesn't observe what is contained [in] it, is like a man that has a box full of silver and gold, and doesn't know it."

--Jonathan Edwards, quoted in Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word, Douglas Sweeney

Friday, September 20, 2013

In Honor of the Late Great Rich Mullins

It was on September 19, 1997, that Rich Mullins was killed in a car accident. The Church lost a great poet and songwriter when he died. Therefore, in an effort to honor his memory and mark the anniversary of his death, I am posting one of my favorite Rich Mullins' songs today, "Hold Me Jesus."

Here's a video of "Hold Me Jesus" being performed live in a concert not long before Mullins' death.

Hold Me Jesus (from A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band)
Rich Mullins, 1955-1997

Well, sometimes my life just don't make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small

So hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It's so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

So hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace
Surrender don't come natural to me
I'd rather fight You for something I don't really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I've beat my head against so many walls
Now I'm falling down, I'm falling on my knees

And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin

I'm singing hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bryan Loritts on "The Greatest Challenge Facing Churches in the South"

Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Fellowship Memphis, was asked what he thought the greatest challenge facing churches in the American South was today. Read his answer here.

Loritts will be part of a one-day conference in Birmingham next Tuesday called Engage the South, which will be advocating for the kind of churches needed in today's American South.

Monday, September 16, 2013

50th Anniversary of the Bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Yesterday marked the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young girls and graphically revealed the horrors of racism. Two recent articles about this event are worth reading as a reflection on that dark day in our nation's history.
Timothy George's First Things article, While the World Watched: Carolyn Maul McKinstry and the Birmingham Bombings

Betsy Child's article for The Gospel Coalition blog, 9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pleading What My Lord Has Done

No More, My God
Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

No more, my God, I boast no more
Of all the duties I have done;
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of Thy Son.

Now, for the love I bear His name,
What was my gain I count my loss;
My former pride I call my shame,
And nail my glory to His cross.

Yes, and I must and will esteem
All things but loss for Jesus’ sake:
O may my soul be found in Him,
And of His righteousness partake!

The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before Thy throne;
But faith can answer Thy demands
By pleading what my Lord has done.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Paul Clark on "Deference Over Preference"

I'm grateful for the very kind personal remarks from my friend, Paul Clark, in his most recent blog post, Deference Over Preference.  But I'm even more grateful for the clear and faithful way he goes on to unpack and apply this concept of deference over preference in our worship. 

It was wonderful to have Dr. Clark with us at First Baptist Church on Sunday, and he did an excellent job preaching and teaching God's Word.  Click here for the audio of his morning sermon, "Can You Sing in Tune?"  And click here for the audio of his evening session, "Worship Renewal and Music Ministry."

Friday, September 6, 2013

I Saw One Hanging on a Tree

In Evil Long I Took Delight
John Newton, 1725-1807

In evil long I took delight,
Unaw'd by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopp'd my wild career.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agonies and blood,
Who fix'd His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never till my latest breath
Can I forget that look;
It seem'd to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt, and own'd the guilt,
And plung'd me in despair;
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And help'd to nail Him there.

Alas! I knew not what I did;
But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain.

A second look He gave, which said,
"I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid,
I die that thou mayst live."

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
(Such is the mystery of grace,)
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief and mournful joy
My spirit now is fill'd.
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill'd.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

When Prose Is Poetic

Some writers just have a way with words, and N.D. Wilson seems to be one of those writers.  Even his prose is often poetic.  This was certainly the case in his 2009 book, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, and it comes out again in his most recent book, Death by Living.  To give you an example, I've taken the liberty of arranging a few paragraphs of prose from Death by Living into poetic form below so you can see what I mean.
If life is a story,
how shall we then live?
It isn't complicated
(just hard).
Take up your life
and follow Him.
Face trouble.
Pursue it.
Climb it.
Smile at its roar
like a tree planted
by cool water
even when your branches groan,
when your golden leaves are stripped
and the frost bites deep,
even when your grip
on this earth is torn loose
and you fall among mourning saplings.
Or consider the following:
This world is all incarnation.
Words made flesh.
God has seen and God has said.
His imagination is bone-shaking
and soul-shivering,
and He has never groped
for words to capture
(and be) those things.
He imagined galaxies and clogged drains
and sharks and harmonies
and emotions and running
and villains and foes and fungus
and that heavy marriage of airs
that we call water
that can skip rocks
and light and wind,
that can quench and freeze and baptize.
He imagined and felt
the ache of a mother's love
and the mortal yearning
caused by the thrust of time
and the speed of the falcon
and the fear of a hare
and minor chords
and the smell of carpet glue.
And none of these things
were any good as ideas.
They became words.
Sounds mouthed by the Infinite.
Rhythms, verbally enfleshed
and shaped by the divine.
They were spoken.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Christ Crucified

A poetic reminder from B.B. Warfield that it's not merely Christ that we proclaim, but Christ our Redeemer, Christ our Savior, and thus Christ crucified:
A Christless cross no refuge for me;
A Crossless Christ my Savior not be;
But, O Christ crucified! I rest in Thee!

--B.B. Warfield

Friday, August 30, 2013

My Soul Still Hangs Her Hopes on Thee

Dangers of Every Shape and Name
William Cowper, 1731-1800

Dangers of every shape and name
Attend the followers of the Lamb,
Who leave the world's deceitful shore,
And leave it to return no more.

O Lord, the pilot's part perform,
And guide and guard me through the storm;
Defend me from each threatening ill;
Control the waves; say, "Peace! Be still!"

Amidst the roaring of the sea,
My soul still hangs her hopes on Thee;
Thy constant love, Thy faithful care,
Is all that saves me from despair.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No Squishy Love (Part 2)

Timothy George has written a follow-up article, No Squishy Love (Part II), in response to all of the reactions from his previous First Things column, No Squishy Love, which was about the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s decision not to include "In Christ Alone" in its new hymnal.
I really did not intend to ignite a theological firestorm when I wrote my On the Square column, “No Squishy Love.” I simply pointed out that the committee preparing a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA) had voted to omit the much loved hymn “In Christ Alone,” because of its offending line, “Till on that cross as Jesus died / The wrath of God was satisfied.” I tried to place this decision in a wider historical context. But then “No Squishy Love” went viral, generating thousands of comments and spin-off articles not only on the Internet and in religious publications but also in USA Today, The Washington Post, and even The Economist! What’s going on here?

As a general rule, I do not respond to book reviews or blog chatter, but all this holy hullabaloo has prompted me to add a few comments to my original statement.
Read the entire article here

Monday, August 26, 2013

Biblical and Theological Foundations of Worship

During Sunday evenings in September, we at First Baptist Church will be having a teaching series on The Biblical and Theological Foundations of Worship with guest speakers Paul Clark, David Dockery, Chris Mathews, and Ben Mitchell.  Each session will begin at 5:00 PM.  The schedule and topics are below:
September 8      Dr. Paul Clark, "Worship Renewal and Music Ministry"
September 15    Dr. David Dockery, "The History of Worship"

September 22    Dr. Chris Mathews, "Selecting the Songs We Won't Sing"

September 29    Dr. C. Ben Mitchell, "The Gospel and Worship" 
Audio will be made available on the church website for those unable to attend.   

Friday, August 23, 2013

His Wounds Deserve Our Praise

Christ's Atoning Wounds
M. Justin Wainscott, © 2009

That sacred stream which ever flows,
Flows from the Savior's wounds,
Does in the souls of saints compose
Sweet, Christ-exalting tunes.

So let the saints in chorus flood
This place with songs of praise;
And sing of Christ's redeeming blood,
And marvel at His grace.

The precious wounds of Christ above -
His hands, His feet, His side -
Stand as a witness of His love
For us, His ransomed bride.

Those wounds which paid our sinful debt
Remove all grounds for pride;
For God's requirements all were met
When Christ our Savior died.

So let us boast in Him alone,
And in the wounds He bears;
Since He who sits on heaven's throne
Those sacred scars still wears.

And when before that throne we stand,
And on our Savior gaze;
We'll truly come to understand,
His wounds deserve our praise.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Russell Moore on NPR's "Here & Now"

On Wednesday, NPR's "Here & Now" interviewed Dr. Russell Moore, the new president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and talked with him about specific issues and the current state of the church. 

To read highlights of the interview or to listen to the sixteen minute conversation, click here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Steve Jobs, A Flawed but Fascinating Figure

I recently finished reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, which I found to be a fascinating read.  While Jobs is certainly no model of Christian faith or virtue, he is an intriguing figure and a prime example of the Lord's common grace.  His list of technological accomplishments is long, and his visionary leadership (though flawed because of his temperament) is unquestionable. 

To give you just a taste of Jobs and his legacy, I've provided some quotes from the book below.
"History will place [Jobs] in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford." (Isaacson)

"Like a pathfinder, he could absorb information, sniff the winds, and sense what lay ahead." (Isaacson)

"Some leaders push innovations by being good at the big picture. Others do so by mastering details. Jobs did both, relentlessly. As a result he launched a series of products over three decades that transformed whole industries:
  • The Apple II
  • The Macintosh
  • Toy Story and other Pixar blockbusters
  • Apple stores
  • The iPod
  • The iTunes Store
  • The iPhone
  • The App Store
  • The iPad
  • iCloud
  • And Apple itself, which Jobs considered his greatest creation."
Pam Kerwin, marketing director at Pixar, on his compelling charisma: "He was so weirdly charismatic that you almost had to get deprogrammed after you talked to him."

His wife, Laurene, on his complex personality: "Like many great men whose gifts are extraordinary, he's not extraordinary in every realm. He doesn't have social graces, such as putting himself in other people's shoes, but he cares deeply about empowering humankind, the advancement of humankind, and putting the right tools in their hands."

How the iPhone was created: "Jobs and his team became excited about the prospect of building a phone that they would want to use. 'That's the best motivator of all,' Jobs said." (Isaacson)

 "The reason Apple can create products like the iPad is that we've always tried to be at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts." (Jobs)

Jobs, in his own words, on why Apple is so successful: "My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation."

Jobs, on always looking forward: "Some people say, 'Give the customers what they want.' But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, 'If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, "A faster horse!" People don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page." 
To purchase Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, click here.     

Friday, August 16, 2013

Saints, From Hence Your Comfort Draw

Hark! the Voice of Love and Mercy
Jonathan Evans, 1749-1809

Hark! the voice of love and mercy
Sounds aloud from Calvary;
See, it rends the rocks asunder,
Shakes the earth, and veils the sky:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
 Hear the dying Savior cry.

“It is finished!” O what pleasure
Do these precious words afford;
Heav’nly blessings, without measure,
Flow to us from Christ the Lord:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!"
 Saints the dying words record.

Finished all the types and shadows
Of the ceremonial law;
Finished all that God had promised;
Death and hell no more shall awe:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
 Saints, from hence your comfort draw.

Tune your harps anew, ye seraphs,
Join to sing the glorious theme;
All in earth, and all in heaven,
Join to praise Emmanuel’s Name;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Glory to the bleeding Lamb!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pride Lamented

Oft Have I Turned My Eyes Within
Samuel Stennett, 1727-1795

Oft have I turned my eyes within,
And brought to light some latent sin;
But pride, the vice I most detest,
Still lurks securely in my breast.

Here with a thousand arts she tries
To dress me in a fair disguise,
To make a guilty wretched worm
Put on an angel's brightest form.

She hides my follies from mine eyes,
And lifts my virtues to the skies;
And, while the specious tale she tells,
Her own deformity conceals.

Rend, O my God, the veil away,
Bring forth the monster to the day;
Expose her hideous form to view,
And all her restless power subdue.

So shall humility divine
Again possess this heart of mine,
And form a temple for my God,
Which He will make His loved abode.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sermons Are Not for Liking

Tim Challies reminds us that Sermons Are Not for Liking:
Today I want to share a lesson I’ve learned that applies primarily to those of us who listen to preaching (as I do, most Sundays, since I am not an every-Sunday kind of preacher). Here’s the lesson: Sermons are not for liking. Sermons are for listening, they are for discerning, they are for applying, but they are not for liking. You don’t get to like or dislike a sermon. We tend to ask questions like, “So how did you enjoy the sermon today?” It is just the wrong question to ask.
Read the entire post here to see exactly what he means.

*I appreciate one of our church members making me aware of this article.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Tyranny of Things We Do Not Need

We Who Prayed and Wept
Wendell Berry

We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyranny of things
we do not need.
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept
beneath the yoke of greed.

Those who will not learn
in plenty to keep their place
must learn it by their need
when they have had their way
and the fields spurn their seed.
We have failed Thy grace.
Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity.

--Taken from Collected Poems of Wendell Berry (1957-1982)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Our Best Sacrifice

O God of Mercy, Hear My Call
Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

O God of mercy, hear my call,
My loads of guilt remove;
Break down this separating wall,
That bars me from Thy love.

Give me the presence of Thy grace,
Then my rejoicing tongue
Shall speak aloud Thy righteousness,
And make Thy praise my song.

No blood of goats nor heifers slain,
For sin could e’er atone;
The death of Christ shall still remain
Sufficient and alone.

A soul oppressed with sin’s desert,
My God will ne’er despise;
A humble groan, a broken heart,
Is our best sacrifice.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

No Squishy Love

In Timothy George's current First Things article, he reflects on the decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from their new hymnal the modern hymn, "In Christ Alone," by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. 
In his 1934 book, The Kingdom of God in America, H. Richard Niebuhr depicted the creed of liberal Protestant theology, which was called “modernism” in those days, in these famous words: "A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." Niebuhr was no fundamentalist, but he knew what he was talking about. So did Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he named the kind of mainline religion he encountered in 1930s America: Protestantismus ohne Reformation, “Protestantism without the Reformation.” 
Sin, judgment, cross, even Christ have become problematic terms in much contemporary theological discourse, but nothing so irritates and confounds as the idea of divine wrath. Recently, the wrath of God became a point of controversy in the decision of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song "In Christ Alone" by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: "Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied." For this they wanted to substitute: "…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified." The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that "In Christ Alone" would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal. 
Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

But Grace Has Set Me Free

Let Worldly Minds the World Pursue
John Newton, 1725-1807

Let worldly minds the world pursue,
It has no charms for me;
Once I admired its trifles too,
But grace has set me free.

Its pleasures now no longer please,
No more content afford;
Far from my heart be joys like these;
Now I have seen the Lord.

As by the light of opening day
The stars are all concealed;
So earthly pleasures fade away,
When Jesus is revealed.

Creatures no more divide my choice,
I bid them all depart;
His name, and love, and gracious voice,
Have fixed my roving heart.

Now, Lord, I would be Thine alone,
And wholly live to Thee;
But may I hope that Thou wilt own
A worthless worm, like me?

Yes! though of sinners I’m the worst,
I cannot doubt Thy will;
For if Thou hadst not loved me first,
I Thee had hated still.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tools of Truth

From the "Quodlibet" section of the July/August issue of Touchstone:
One of the most frustrating things about being a Christian is that we are not allowed to fight the devil with his own tools. We cannot lie and cheat when we're up against liars and cheaters. We're obliged to give the devil his due, and go about the slow and so often apparently fruitless task of undoing the destruction his vandals have done so quickly and easily: analyzing, explaining, and placing the truth against lies in appeals to ears that so often are deaf - ears we at first thought wanted the truth, but in the end do not. No shortcuts, quick fixes, or sleights of hand are allowed here, no rhetorical tricks or playing to the gallery. This work requires patience and is a trial of faith, but it has a great temporal reward in the enjoyment of a conscience clear of the accusation that we have become what we hate.

--S.M. Hutchens

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Love for a Bible Not Read: A Call for Biblical Literacy"

Al Mohler calls for the church to wake up to the danger of biblical illiteracy in this Southern Seminary Magazine article, "Love for a Bible Not Read: A Call for Biblical Literacy."  It's fairly brief, so I've posted the entire article below:
While America’s evangelical Christians are rightly concerned about the secular worldview’s rejection of biblical Christianity, we ought to give some urgent attention to a problem much closer to home: biblical illiteracy in the church. This scandalous problem is our own, and it’s up to us to fix it.

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible — but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” Researchers tell us that it is worse than most could imagine.

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from one research group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. Americans may demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in the courthouse, but they seem unable to remember what exactly they are.

According to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better — by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.

One poll indicates that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors reveals that more than 50 percent thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.

How can a generation be biblically shaped in its understanding of human sexuality when it believes Sodom and Gomorrah to be a married couple? Many who identify themselves as Christians are similarly confused about the gospel itself. An individual who believes that “God helps those who help themselves” will find salvation by grace and justification by faith to be alien concepts.

Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study.

This really is our problem, and recovery starts at home. Parents are to be the first and most important educators of their own children, teaching them the Word of God. Parents cannot franchise out their responsibility to the congregation, no matter how faithful it may be.

Churches must recover the centrality and urgency of biblical teaching and preaching.

We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. The many fronts of Christian compromise in this generation can be directly traced to biblical illiteracy in the pews and the absence of biblical preaching and teaching in our homes and churches.

This generation must get deadly serious about the problem of biblical illiteracy, or a frighteningly large number of Americans — many church members included — will go on thinking that Sodom and Gomorrah lived happily ever after.

Friday, July 19, 2013

How God Answers Prayers for Grace and Faith

These Inward Trials
John Newton, 1725-1807

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and ev'ry grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

'Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He I trust has answered prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He'd answer my request,
And by His love's constraining pow'r
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry pow'rs of hell
Assault my soul in ev'ry part.

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.

"Lord, why is this," I, trembling, cried;
"Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?"
"'Tis in this way," the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith."

"These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may'st find thy all in Me."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Packer Asks, "Have You Yourself, I Wonder, Read It Yet?"

J. I. Packer offers many of us a gentle rebuke:
For two centuries Pilgrim’s Progress was the best-read book, after the Bible, in all Christendom, but sadly it is not so today. 
When I ask my classes of young and youngish evangelicals, as I often do, who has read Pilgrim’s Progress, not a quarter of the hands go up. 
Yet our rapport with fantasy writing, plus our lack of grip on the searching, humbling, edifying truths about spiritual life that the Puritans understood so well, surely mean that the time is ripe for us to dust off Pilgrim’s Progress and start reading it again. 
Certainly, it would be great gain for modern Christians if Bunyan’s masterpiece came back into its own in our day. 
Have you yourself, I wonder, read it yet?
Personally, I like the updated version of Pilgrim's Progress from Crossway, edited by C.J. Lovik.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Not Guilty. Now What?

Trillia Newbell's basic reaction to the verdict from the Zimmerman trial: we mourn and we pray.  We mourn with the Martin family over the loss of their son,  and we pray for Zimmerman, whose life will never be the same.
The verdict is in. George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The reactions have been strong and may only become more intense and polarizing as analysis of the case continues to roll in. Some believed justice has been done; others that injustice has been committed.

Regardless of the reaction, this remains certain: Trayvon Martin is dead, a mom and dad will never see their son again, and Zimmerman's life will never be the same.
Read her entire article here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Gettys on NPR

Some of you may have heard the interview with Keith and Kristyn Getty on NPR's "All Things Considered" a few days ago.  If not, you can listen to it or read it at the NPR website.  Here's a brief snippet: 
"Our goal is to write songs that teach the faith, where the congregation is the main thing, and everybody accompanies that," he says.

There's no definition for what's a hymn and not a praise song. But Keith Getty says it should be singable without a band and easy for anyone sitting in the pews to pick up. And it should say something bold. 
For the whole interview, click here.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hymn Stories: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Tim Challies has a great series of posts on hymn stories, and the most recent one is on Luther's A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.  
It was … the Marseillaise of the Reformation. It was sung at Augsburg during the Diet, and in all the churches of Saxony, often against the protest of the priest. It was sung in the streets; and, so heard, comforted the hearts of Melanchthon, Jonas, and Cruciger, as they entered Weimar, when banished from Wittenberg in 1547. It was sung by poor Protestant emigrants on their way into exile, and by martyrs at their death. It is woven into the web of the history of Reformation times, and it became the true national hymn of Protestant Germany. (Louis Benson)
If you scroll down to the bottom of Challie's post, you will see links to the other hymn stories he has provided as well. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Salvation to the Lamb

Whatever Prompts the Soul to Pride
Joseph Hart, 1712-1768

Whatever prompts the soul to pride,
Or gives us room to boast,
Except in Jesus crucified,
Is not the Holy Ghost.

That blessed Spirit omits to speak
Of what himself has done,
And bids the enlightened sinner seek
Salvation in the Son.

He never moves a man to say,
"Thank God, I'm made so good,"
But turns his eye another way,
To Jesus and His blood.

Great are the graces He confers,
But all in Jesus' name;
He gladly dictates, gladly hears,
"Salvation to the Lamb."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Engage the South" One Day Conference

Engage the South is a one day conference in Birmingham on Tuesday, September 24. Sponsored by Acts 29 Network in partnership with Beeson Divinity School and The Gospel Coalition, Engage the South is a gathering of church leaders, those considering church leadership, and anyone who has a desire to be a part of church planting in the South, or the world. It will have a cultural framework for church planting in the South, but clearly God’s call is for the gospel to go local and global. Whether you have been in church leadership for many years or a young leader praying and thinking about church planting, this one day wave of truth, experience, and wisdom from godly, proven leaders will be an effective time for you and your team.

Speakers include Ray Ortlund, Bryan Loritts, Kevin Smith, Matt Chandler, and David Platt. 

To see the topics, schedule, and to register, click here

Monday, July 1, 2013

Wendell Berry and the Beauty of Membership

Frequent readers of this blog will not be surprised that I was very encouraged by the recent article at The Gospel Coalition site by Matt McCullough regarding Wendell Berry and the Beauty of Membership.  The article focuses primarily on my favorite Berry novel, Jayber Crow, drawing parallels from membership in the Port William community to membership in the church. 
...Berry's stories bring to life truths at the heart of the community we're aiming for when we emphasize church membership. A thriving, covenant-shaped local church requires precisely the sort of self-abnegation Berry celebrates and is opposed by the same self-exaltation he portrays in all its ugliness.

Too often we try on new churches like we try on new clothes and for much the same reason. We're looking for style and fit, for what meets our needs and makes the appropriate statement about who we are. We put our churches in service of our desire to be somebody, and our commitment doesn't outlast the better options of Elsewhere. But this posture—beside its offense to the cross—leads to self-absorption, restlessness, and isolation.
Read the entire article here.

Friday, June 28, 2013

And Yet His Mercy Condescends

Awake, Awake! O Heart of Mine!
Fanny Crosby, 1820-1915

Awake, awake, O heart of mine!
Sing praise to God above;
Take up the song of endless years,
And sing redeeming love!
Redeemed by Him who bore my sins,
When on the cross He died;
Redeemed and purchased with His blood,
Redeemed and sanctified.

Redeemed by Him, my Lord and King,
Who saves me day by day;|
My life and all its ransomed powers
Could ne’er His love repay.
And yet His mercy condescends
My humble gift to own;
And through the riches of His grace,
He brings me near His throne.

O love, unchanging, love sublime!
Not all the hosts above
Can reach the height or sound the depth
Of God’s eternal love.
This wondrous love enfolds the world,
It fills the realms above;
’Tis boundless as eternity;
Oh, praise the God of love!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How Should Same-Sex Marriage Change the Church's Witness?

Russell Moore provides a helpful reminder of what has (and has not changed) since yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage and how the church should respond:
Same-sex marriage is headed for your community. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. It’s a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

And that’s good news.
Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Audio of "Marriage on the Line Event"

The Supreme Court is supposed to issue a ruling today regarding same-sex marriage.  If it is affirmed by the Court, how should the church respond?  That's the question that was discussed in the Marriage on the Line Event sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Panelists include Russell Moore, David Platt, J.D. Greear, Susie Hawkins, and Paige Patterson.  

The audio of that discussion can be heard here.