Thursday, August 31, 2006

Isaac Watts' Questions for Ministers, pt. 2

Here are parts 3-5 of Isaac Watt's questions for young ministers. As I mentioned previously, old ministers can benefit from this kind of internal investigation, as well. If these questions seem over-scrupulous I would argue that the reason is to be found more in the laxity of our day regarding pastoral ministry than in any tendency toward morbid introspection in Watts' day.

Section III
Of Constant Prayer and Dependance
  1. Do I "give myself to prayer, as well as to the ministry of the word?" Acts vi. 4.
  2. Do I make conscience of praying daily in secret, that I may thereby maintain holy converse with God, and also, that I may increase in the gift of prayer? Matth. vi. 6.
  3. Do I make it my practice to offer "prayers, supplications, and intercessions for all men," particularly for our rulers, and for my fellow labourers in the ministry, and for the church of Christ, and especially for those to whom I preach? 1 Tim. ii. 1. Rom. i. 9, 10. Phil. i. 4.
  4. Do I seek by prayer, for divine direction and assistance in my studies, and in all my preparations for the public? and do I plead for the success of my ministry with God, in whom are all our springs? Eph. iii. 14-19. Phil. i. 8, 9.
  5. Do I ever keep upon my spirit a deep sense of my own insufficiency for these things, that I may ever depend and wait on the power of Christ for aid and success? 2 Cor. ii. 16. and iii. 5. and 2 Tim. ii. 1.

Section IV
Of Self-Denial, Humility, Mortification, and Patience
  1. Do I endeavour to please all men for their good, and not make it my business to please myself? Rom. xvi. 2. But to become all to all, that I may win their souls, so far as is consistent with being true and faithful to Christ? 1 Cor. x. 23, and ix. 19, 22.
  2. Do I behave myself before men, "not as a lord over God's heritage, but as a servant of all for Christ's sake?" and do I treat them not as having dominion over their faith, but as a helper of their joy?" 2 Cor. iv. 5. and i. 24.
  3. Am I "gentle and patient towards all men, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves?" 2 Tim. ii. 24, 25.
  4. Do I "approve myself in all things as a minister of God; in much patience possessing my own soul," and having the government of my own spirit? 2 Cor. vi. 4.
  5. Do I, as a man of God, whose business is heavenly, flee from covetousness and the inordinate desire of gain; not seeking my own things so much as the things of Christ? 1 Tim. vi. 10, 11. But having food and raiment, have I learned therewith to be content? 1 Tim. vi. 8.
  6. Am I willing "to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ?" 2 Tim. ii. 3. and am I learning to bear whatsoever God calls me to, "for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain salvation with eternal glory?" 2 Tim. ii. 3. 10.
  7. Am I more and more fortified against shame and suffering for the testimony of my Lord Jesus Christ? 2 Tim. i. 8-12.
  8. Am I willing "to spend myself and to be spent for the good of the people, or even to be offered up, as a sacrifice for the service of their faith? and do I count nothing dear to me, that I may fulfil the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus?" Phil. ii. 17. 2 Cor. xii. 15. Acts xx. 24.

Section V
Of Conversation
  1. It is my constant endeavour to "hold fast the true faith, and a good conscience together, lest making shipwreck of one, I should lose the other also." 1 Tim. i. 19.
  2. "Do I so walk as to be an "example of Christian, in word, in conversation, in charity, in faith, in purity?" 1 Tim. iv. 12; that in "all things I may show myself a pattern of good works?" Tit. ii. 7.
  3. Do I endeavour to walk uprightly amongst men, and do nothing by partiality? 1 Tim. v. 21.
  4. Is my conversation savoury and religious, so as to minister edification to the hearers? Eph.. iv. 29.
  5. Do I "shun youthful lusts, and follow after righteousness, faith, charity, and peace with all them that call on the Lord, out of a pure heart? 2 Tim. ii. 22.
  6. Do I avoid, as much as possible, the various temptations to which I may be exposed, and watch against the times, and places, and company which are dangerous?
  7. Do I practise the Christian duty of love and charity, to those who differ from me in opinion, and even "bless and pray for them that are my enemies?" Rom. xii. 14; and xiv. 1.
  8. Do I behave myself blameless as a steward of God, not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, nor filthy lucre, no brawler, no striker; a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate? Tit. i. 7, 8.
  9. Do I daily endeavour "to give no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed?" 2 Cor. vi. 3.
  10. Do I watch over myself in all times, and places, and conversations, so as to do and to bear what is required of me, to make a full proof of my ministry, and to adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour? 2 Tim. iv. 5. Tit. ii. 10.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Isaac Watts' Questions for Ministers, pt. 1

The warnings in the Scripture to take heed to ourselves and beware of being deceived--either by others or through self-deceit--need to be taken to heart by ministers of the Gospel. None of us is immune to disqualifying himself from pastoral ministry. It is wise and profitable for a pastor to stop and examine himself periodically, in light of what the Bible calls him to be and do.

Isaac Watts drew up a list of questions designed to help young ministers do exactly that. These questions are useful for more than young ministers. Any pastor can benefit from them. Watts divided the questions into 5 sections. Today I am posting the first two of those. I will follow up the the last three in the next post. The full title is "Questions Proper for Young Ministers Frequently to Put to Themselves, Chiefly borrowed from the Epistles to Timothy and Titus."

Section I.
Of Faithfulness in the Ministry
  1. Do I sincerely give myself "to the ministry of the word;" Acts vi. 4. and do I design to make it the chief business of my life to serve Christ in his Gospel, in order to the salvation of men?
  2. Do I resolve, through the aids of divine grace, "to be faithful to him who hath put me into the ministry," and "to take heed to the ministry which I have received in the Lord that I may fulfil it?" 1 Tim. i. 12. Col. iv. 17.
  3. Do I honestly and faithfully endeavour by study and prayer to know "the truth as it is in Jesus?" Eph. ix. 21. and do I seek my instructions chiefly from the "holy scriptures which are able to make me wise unto salvation, through the faith that is in Christ, that I may be thoroughly furnished unto every good word and work?" 2 Tim. iii. 14. 17.
  4. Do "I hold fast the form of sound words," as far as I have learned them of Christ and his apostles? 2 Tim. i. 13. That I "may by sound doctrine exhort and convince gainsayers;" Tit. i. 9. and do I determine to "continue in the things which I have learned, knowing from whom I have learned them?" 2 Tim. iii. 14.
  5. Do I resolve to give the people the true meaning of Christ in his word, so far as I can understand it, and "not to handle the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commend myself to every man's conscience in the sight of God?" 2 Cor. iv. 2.
  6. Am I watchful to "avoid profane and vain babblings?" 1 Tim. vi. 20. and do I take care to "shun foolish questions, which do gender strife, and disputing about words, which are to no profit, but the subversion of the hearers?" 2 Tim. ii. 14, 23.
  7. Do I study to show myself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth; 2 Tim. ii. 15. giving to every one, viz. to saints and sinners, their proper portion?
  8. Do I make it my business to "testify to all men, whether Jews or Greeks, the necessity of repentance towards God, and faith in Christ Jesus;" and that "there is no other name under heaven given whereby we may be saved;" making this gospel of Christ the subject of my ministry? Acts xx. 21. Acts iv. 12.
  9. Do I constantly affirm that "those who have believed in Christ Jesus should maintain good works, and follow after holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord?" Titus iii. 8. Heb. xii. 14.
  10. Do I teach those that hear me to "observe all that Christ hath commanded us, nor shun to declare to them at proper seasons the whole counsel of God? Mat. xxviii. 20. Acts xx. 27.
  11. Do I preach to the people, "not myself, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and myself as their servant for Christ's sake?" 2 Cor. iv. 5.
  12. Do I, in my study and my preaching, "take heed to my doctrine and my exhortations, so that I may save myself and them that hear me?" 1 Tim. iv. 16.
  13. Do I "watch over the souls of men as one that must give an account, being solicitous that I may do it with joy, and not with grief?" Heb. xiii. 17.

Section II

Of Diligence in the Ministry
  1. Do I "give attendance to reading," meditation and study? Do I read a due portion of scripture daily, especially in the New Testament, and that in the Greek original, that I may be better acquainted with the meaning of the word of God? 1 Tim. iv. 13.
  2. Do I apply myself to these things, and give myself wholly to them, that my profiting may appear to all? 1 Tim. iv. 15.
  3. Do I live, constantly, as under the eye of the great Shepherd, who is my master and my final judge; and so spend my hours as to be able to give up a good account of them at last to him?
  4. Do I not "neglect to stir up any of those gifts, which God has given me, for the edification of the church? 1 Tim. iv. 14. and 2 Tim. i. 6.
  5. Do I seek, as far as possible, to know the state and the wants of my auditory, that I "may speak a word in season?" Is. i. 4.
  6. Is it my chief design, in choosing my subject, and composing my sermon, to edify the souls of men?
  7. Am I determined to take all proper opportunities to preach the word in season and out of season, that is, in the parlour or the kitchen, or the workhouse, as well as in the pulpit; and seek opportunities to speak a word for Christ, and help forward the salvation of souls? 2 Tim. iv. 2.
  8. Do I labour to show my love to our Lord Jesus, by "feeding the sheep and the lambs of his flock?" John xxi. 16, 17.
  9. Am I duly solicitous for the success of my ministry? and do I take all proper methods to inquire what effects my ministry has had on the souls of those who hear me?
  10. Where I find or hope the work of grace is begun on the soul, am I zealous and diligent to promote it?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A tragedy and warning

This story (and this one, and this one) from South Florida of a popular pastor's demise is tragic. It is also a sober reminder and warning that no one is beyond temptation. It is tragic that he did not have some faithful men in his life who could have kept him accountable and perhaps pursuing an honorable course. The reported stories contain enough sadness to make anyone who loves Christ's church weep. They also raise (and leave unanswered) so many other questions that an honest journalist could stay busy pursuing them for the next 6 months.

Pray for Brother Flockhart. Pray for the church...and pray for his enablers.

Remembering Katrina? Remember Lakeshore Baptist Church

As the thoughts of our nation turn to last year's devastating Hurricane Katrina I want to call your attention to one of the bright Gospel lights that has been shining on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the ongoing wake of that storm. Lakeshore Baptist Church, under the leadership of Pastor Don Elbourne, has become a hub for Gospel ministry in the Waveland, Mississippi area in ways that are exceedingly disproportionate to the size of its membership.

Don's blog, Locusts and Wild Honey, is one of the first that I came to appreciate last year, weeks before the storm hit. After Katrina, it became a source of periodic updates on the various relief ministries engaged by Southern Baptists and other Christian churches. Don has proven to be a faithful shepherd to that flock over the last year as not only members but entire communities have faced incredible challenges in daily living. The church stocks and sponsors a Distribution Center where locals come to get food, water and living supplies. Even after a year, they still have days when they serve more than 500 people through this ministry. Of course, donations from people around the nation help keep the center stocked, and volunteer groups regularly come in to aid in the ongoing cleanup work, cooking, rebuilding and anything else that needs to be done.

Our church sent a team of 40 people to assist for a week this summer. I was providentially hindered from participating, but 4 of my children went. They, and every other participant came back humbled and deeply moved by God's work through Lakeshore Baptist. We hope to send another group this fall.

If you want to invest in the relief work on the Mississippi coast, and want your investment not only to meet physical needs but to do so in Jesus' Name for the advance of His Gospel, I know of no better place to direct funds than Lakeshore Baptist Church. You can send your gift to:
Lakeshore Baptist Church
PO Box 293
6028 Lakeshore Road
Lakeshore MS 39558
Pray for Don and the church. The Name of our Lord and Savior is being exalted through their labors in the aftermath of Katrina.

Monday, August 28, 2006

2006 Brandon Biblical Theological Conference

Grace Bible Church of Brandon, Florida has put together a wonderful conference on "The Holy Trinity," October 12-14, 2006. The cost is very affordable ($40.00 or only $15.00 for pastors) and the speakers are outstanding. Chris Pixley, the Pastor of GBC, will be joined by the original Pyromaniac, Phil Johnson, who also serves as Executive Director of Grace to You, and Robert Reymond, Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary and author of one of the finest systematic theology texts in the last 50 years.

Brandon is located just south of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. I highly recommend this conference for pastors and others who are interested in serious Bible study and rich fellowship.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday (night) is for photos, August 25, 2006

Cape Coral is located on the southwest coast of Florida at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee. This evening, on a beach at the river I baptized two men in a very public service. Here is a silhouette photo of that event, taken by my daughter, Rebecca, right after the baptism. A forboding storm threatened this evening, but the Lord held it off long enough for both brothers to profess their faith publicly through believers' baptism. We sang, read Scripture, prayed and I preached a brief message from the surf to those from Grace plus some curious onlookers. Some of our folks also took the opportunity to engage folks in conversations about the Gospel. It was an encouraging evening.

J.B. Gambrell on the kind of preaching we need

J. B. Gambrell was Southern Baptist leader whose life spanned the War Between the States and the First World War. He served as editor of two state Baptist newspapers as well as teacher at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Corresponding Secretary of the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and 3 terms (1917-1920) as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. His call for a certain kind of preaching is more needed today than it was when he originally issued it.
We may invigorate our faith and renew our courage by reflecting that divine power has always attended the preaching of doctrine, when done in the true spirit of preaching. Great revivals have accompanied the heroic preaching of the doctrines of grace, predestination, election, and that whole lofty mountain range of doctrines upon which Jehovah sits enthroned, sovereign in grace as in all things else. God honors the preaching that honors him. There is entirely too much milk-sop preaching nowadays trying to cajole sinners to enter upon a truce with their Maker, quit sinning and join the church. The situation does not call for a truce, but for a surrender. Let us bring out the heavy artillery of heaven, and thunder away at this stuck-up age as Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Paul did and there will be many slain in the Lord raised up to walk in newness of life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Calvinism's "Comeback" and the reformation we need

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As Pastor Leap noted in a comment on the previous blog entry, Christianity Today's current (September 2006) issue [EDIT: it is now online here] has a cover story on the resurgence of reformed theology among the rising generation of American Christians--especially pastors and church leaders. Collin Hansen does a good job describing this reformation movement and highlights some of the men whom God is using in significant ways to fuel its flames.

The article documents what a few people have been saying for the last few years: we are in the early stages of real reformation. Reformed theology certainly is foundational to this reformation, but what is happening should not be dismissed or superficially assessed as simply more people becoming Calvinists than in previous years. From my vantage point God is raising up a generation who are weary of an American evangelicalism that is insipid at best and in truth is more committed to America than it is to the evangel. As Joshua Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland is quoted as saying, once it is accepted that "it's not about us, it's about God's glory, it's about his renown ... that's the first step down a path of Reformed theology."

Interestingly, theologian Roger Olson, a self-described "genuine Arminian," makes this comment about his Reformed counterparts: "A lot of us evangelical Arminians agree with them in their criticisms of popular folk religion....I agree with their basic theological underpinnings--that doctrine is important, that grace is the decisive factor in salvation, not a decision we make." My own experience confirms this. Give me a warm-hearted, Wesleyan Arminian any day over the typical, non-descript, atheological evangelical that has dominated American conservative Christianity for the last 50 years. And by all means give me that person over an ungracious, belligerent Calvinist.

There are some statements in the article that are sure to raise eyebrows if not blood pressures. For example, Hansen calls "the [sic--he doesn't get the importance of the definite article!] Southern Baptist Theological Seminary" a "Reformed hotbed." Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is quoted. Unfortunately, his "white paper" from 2005, that has been rather vigorously debunked on this blog previously (here, here, here and here), is quoted. Dr. Lemke is further cited in what I can at best say is an unfortunate way. If the summation and quote are accurate, then any hope that I had from our previous exchange (see the links above) is completely dissipated.

Hansen writes:
Lemke doubts that Calvinism has yet reached its high-water mark in the SBC. But he is no fan of this trend. Baptism and membership figures, he said, show that the Calvinist churches of the SBC's Founders Ministries lack commitment to evangelism. According to Lemke, the problem only makes sense, given their emphasis on God's sovereign election. "For many people, if they're convinced that God has already elected those who will be elect ... I don't see how humanly speaking that can't temper your passion, because you know you're not that crucial to the process," Lemke explained.
Love hopes he was quoted wrongly. But experience makes me think otherwise. The canard about Founders churches and evangelism has been addressed very decisively. Lemke has better information than he had when he wrote his white paper. He should know better. What we "Founders types" lack is not a commitment to evangelism but a commitment to shallow evangelism that thinks you can save a soul for $48 dollars a month or results in vastly more "converts" that show no signs of life than those who do. We do stand against the kind of evangelism that fills our churches with unregenerate members. But we do not stand against biblical evangelism. Neither did Whitefield, Spurgeon, Boyce, Judson, Carey or Edwards (to name but a few). The fact that Lemke cannot understand how one can believe unconditional election and remain passionate about evangelism tells us far more about him and his theological understanding than it does about evangelical Calvinism. Furthermore, for him to think that because he is not "crucial" to the process of salvation he must therefore be less passionate about evangelism is a serious indictment on his understanding of grace and love.

The article that Hansen has written is well worth reading. It should encourage all who long for spiritual and doctrinal reformation in our churches. By God's grace, such reformation is happening. May God be pleased to cause it to increase.

The "Darling of Heaven" and the Dignity of Gospel Ministry

Several years ago I learned a new song by Hillsong entitled, "Worthy is the Lamb." It is a simple declaration of the worthiness of our exalted Christ to receive our praise because of His crosswork. It has become a favorite of mine and one that our church has learned to sing with enthusiasm. Here is the chorus:
Worthy is the Lamb
Seated on the throne
Crown You now with many crowns
You reign victorious

High and lifted up
Jesus Son of God
The Darling of Heaven crucified
Worthy is the Lamb
Worthy is the Lamb
Some have stumbled over the words, "Darling of Heaven," believing that this betrays a sappy sentimentalism that is characteristic of our age more than of the Bible. I was never convinced by that critique and find the phrase, though uncommon, not inappropriate. I was heartened by a discovery I made sometime last year when I came across an address by David Bostwick, an 18th century Presbyterian minister, preached in 1758 to the Synod of New York. It is entitled, "The Character and Duty of a Christian Preacher" and has been reprinted in The Christian Pastor's Manual, edited by John Brown and recently reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria.

Bostwick argues in the last part of his message for the character of Christ forming the basis of the dignity of the pastoral office. Consider his words:
If the business of Gospel ministers is, to preach Christ, hence see the honour and dignity of their office. No other than a glorious Christ, the anointed of God, the darling of heaven (my emphasis), and the beloved of angels and saints, is the subject of their ministry; from him their authority and commission is derived, in his valuable interest they are engaged to speak, as "ambassadors in his name and stead." Their office is, therefore, honourable in some proportion to the dignity of the sovereign, from whom they receive commission; the grandeur of the court in whose interest they are employed as ambassadors, and the important errand they have to transact with guilty men. And as they are engaged for Christ, and employed by him to act as ambassadors in his name, he has declared that he will regard the treatment they meet with as if done to himself: "He that receiveth you, says he, receiveth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me, and him that sent me." Were we acting a part for ourselves, and speaking in our own name, and driving on our own self-interests, men might treat us a they pleased; but if we act as ambassadors for Christ, in pursuit of his interest, and in his name and stead, let them take heed how they despise the sacred character we sustain, or neglect the solemn messages we bring.
The authority which a Gospel minister wields is vested and not inherent. Remembering this will help a man resist the temptation to be authoritarian and overbearing (lording it over God's people). It will also embolden him to speak plainly, humbly and unwaveringly all that His Lord has given him in the written Word (declaring the whole counsel of God). When a God-called man stands to preach, he does so in behalf of Jesus Christ--"the glorious Christ, the anointed of God, the darling of heaven, and the beloved of angels and saints." Our desire should be to represent Him well and to deliver His Word accurately and with a passsion and dignity that is commensurate with His own person and work.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Adoniram Judson's Burman Creed

Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was one of the first overseas missionaries from the United States. On February 19, 1812, he set sail with his wife of two weeks, Ann, in hopes of serving as a missionary in India. He left the shores of the USA as a convinced paedobaptist Congregationalist. But by the time the ship arrived in India, he was a convinced Baptist, thus giving American Baptists their first missionary even before there was any established board or agency to service their support. After being baptized by William Carey, he sailed a year later to Burma (today's Myanmar) where he spent his life serving the Burmese people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It has been my privilege to pastor Burmese decendents of some of the first converts that he saw in that land. The very first conversion did not take place until his seventh year of missionary labor. Following is taken from a "Burman Liturgy" that Judson drew up in 1829 to assist missionaries and their assistants as they led new churches in congregational worship. A regular part of their worship was to hear a summary of the faith--a creed--read aloud. This English translation is found in volume 2 of Francis Wayland's Memoir of Judson.

Judson's expectation and understanding of what new believers and churches need stands in stark contrast to much modern missiological thinking on that question. His concerns are instructive for us today.

A Creed, in Twelve Articles; or, A Summary of the Doctrine of the Lord
Jesus Christ.
  1. ART. I. There is one only permanent God, possessed of all incomprehensible perfections, eternal, almighty, omniscient, the Creator of all worlds and all things.
  2. ART. II. There are two volumes of the Scriptures of truth,--the Scriptures of the old dispensation, in thirty-nine books, and the Scriptures of the new dispensation, in twenty-seven books,--written under the inspiration of God, by prophets and apostles, the recipients of divine communications.
  3. ART. III. According to the Scriptures, man, at the beginning, was made upright and holy; but listening to the devil, he transgressed the divine commands, and fell from his good estate; in consequence of which, the original pair, with all their posterity, contracted a depraved, sinful nature, and became deserving of hell.
  4. ART. IV. God, originally knowing that mankind would fall and be ruined, did, of his mercy, select some of the race and give them to his Son, to save from sin and hell.
  5. ART. V. The Son of God, according to his engagement to save the elect, was in the fulness of time, conceived by power of God, in the womb of the virgin Mary, in the country of Judea and land of Israel, and thus uniting the divine and human natures, he was born as man; and being the Saviour Messiah, (Jesus Christ,) he perfectly obeyed the law of God, and then laid down his life for man, in the severest agonies of crucifixion, by which he made an atonement for all who are willing to believe.
  6. ART. VI. The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, and having continued on earth forty days, he ascended to heaven, bodily and visibly, before his disciples and there he remains in the presence of God the Father.
  7. ART. VII. In order to obtain salvation, we must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and become his disciples, receiving a change of nature, through regeneration, by the power of the Spirit.
  8. ART. VIII. Those who become disciples obtain the pardon of their sins through the cross of Christ; and being united to him by faith, his righteousness is imputed to them, and they become entitled to the eternal happiness of heaven.
  9. ART. IX. Disciples, therefore, though they may not in this world be perfectly free from the old nature, do not completely fall away; but through the sustaining grace of the Spirit, they persevere until death in spiritual advancement, and in endeavors to keep the divine commands.
  10. ART. X. At death, the souls of disciples go to the Lord Jesus Christ, and remain happy till the end of this world, at which period he will descend bodily from heaven, all the dead will be raised by his power, and assembled before him to receive his judgment.
  11. ART. XI. At the day of judgment, he will publicly pronounce the pardon and justification of his disciples; and they will then be invested with perpetual life in the presence of God, and enter on the enjoyment of the interminable happiness of heaven.
  12. ART. XII. As to those who are not disciples, since they believe not in the Lord who saves from sin, they will not, on that day, find any refuge, but, according to their deserts, be cast, body and soul, into hell, and come to perpetual destruction.
[After the Creed, or instead of it, an exhortation, or sermon or portion of Scripture, read and commented on, followed by an extempore prayer, closing, perhaps, with the Lord’s Prayer; the benediction in the words of 2 Cor. xii. 16.]

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday is for Photos, August 18, 2006

My daughter, Rebecca, took this picture one morning last Spring just before she and her sisters left for their college classes. We have some heavy fog during the Spring in Southwest Florida. This shot captures the beauty of that haze that remains just before the fog dissipates under the warming influence of the sun.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

How about a resolution on gluttony?

Todd Brady, minister to the university at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, had this to say today in a Baptist Press First Person article entitled, "Vaccinating our indulgences:"
Obesity in America is a weighty problem. Approximately 30 percent of children and adolescents (ages 6 to 10) are overweight. Nearly 65 percent of adults are considered overweight or obese.

Even more discouraging is the fact that the problem is bigger among clergy. Several years ago, a survey by Duke University's Pulpit and Pew, a pastoral leadership research initiative, revealed that 76 percent of clergy are overweight. In addition, in his book "High Calling High Anxiety," Guidestone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins cited statistics saying that 75 percent of Southern Baptist pastors eat fried foods at least four nights a week and that 40 percent snack two or more times a day on cookies, chips or candy.
Joe Thorn toyed with the idea of submitting a resolution on gluttony to this year's Resolutions Committee of the SBC (just for the record, it was a resolution against gluttony). I think he ought to do it next year. In fact, I think several people should plan to submit such a resolution. The Bible does speak of gluttony as a real sin, even though we don't speak of it nearly as much as we do some of our own culturally manufactored "sins." By addressing it publicly perhaps many of us who have rather mindlessly imbibed very worldly attitudes about eating will be helped to reconsider what the Scripture actually says about this actual sin, and will be granted strength to repent.

Read the rest of Brady's article here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday is for Photos, August 11, 2006

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One of the joys of raising children is the opportunity to see the world in fresh ways through their eyes. While helping her mom cut roses recently in our back yard, my nine year old daughter, Hannah, discovered this little frog doing his best to hide. This is a photo that she took of the scene. [Edit: a little touch up in photoshop by a friend made the background better]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Former President of the SBC misrepresents opponents of resolution #5

Just because you have been the President of the SBC doesn't mean that you always tell the truth. That has been made very evident in the recent SBCLife, the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention. Bobby Welch wrote a letter to Southern Baptists that appears in the current issue (August 2006). It appears under the title, "A Word From Our Former President." In it, he expresses his deep appreciation for being allowed to serve two terms as the President of the SBC. He also sets forth his desire to help Southern Baptist stay focused on evangelism. Early in the letter he addresses the issue of resolution #5, which calls for the total opposition of beverage alcohol. He writes that people have asked him the following question: "Were there any surprises at the Convention?" Here is his answer:
Oh yes! Undoubtedly, the greatest surprise to almost everyone was that several Southern Baptist pastors actually came to a microphone and publicly promoted the drinking of alcoholic beverages and wanted the SBC to do the same! Actually, I never thought I would see that take place, and it is not only a surprise but an outrage! My father was addicted to alcohol, which contributed to his early death. He advised me that if I would never take the first drink I would never end up like he did. I did not, and he was correct!

I understand one pastor's blog site indicates he believes his drinking assists him in soul-winning! What a pathetic joke! These blogging Baptist pastors just blew their collective cork!

From my vantage point, as presiding officer of the Convention, I took a slow and deliberate look at the number of ballots raised in support of such foolishness and comparatively, there was hardly anyone who was in favor of encouraging the use or promotion of the use of alcoholic beverages. In fact, the overwhelming voice and raised ballot vote made it clear that Southern Baptists do not want leaders that use or promote the use of any type of alcohol.

We have many outstanding young pastors and others on their way to leading this Convention to its greatest days, and they are smart enough to know they will not do it as "sipping saints," but as sober soul winners! God help us to never, ever elect a user or promoter of the use of alcoholic beverages to any leadership position, and I am personally sorry and ashamed if we have any in those positions now!
This kind of mischaracterization is inexcusable--especially from one who actually presided over the meeting in Greensboro. Dr. Welch did an admirable job in moderating with gentleness and fairness. I and many others have commended him for the humble, professional leadership that he exhibited while wielding the gavel. It is a shame that he follows that with these outlandish and untruthful accusations. When he writes that "several Southern Baptist pastors actually came to a microphone and publicly promoted the drinking of alcoholic beverages and wanted the SBC to do the same!," he at best is misrepresenting what actually happened. At worst, well, at worst, he is simply being untruthful.

I was there. So were thousands of others. But don't take my word for it. Go to the video archives at the SBC website and watch the proceedings from Wednesday morning's report from the Resolutions Committee. One need not speculate on what was said and not said. I encourage you to watch and listen for yourself. If you discover "several Southern Baptist pastors" who spoke publicly and "promoted the drinking of alcoholic beverages and wanted the SBC to do the same," please transcript their promotional appeals and send them to me. I will post them here and will publicly repent for questioning Dr. Welch's comments. If such evidence cannot be found, then Dr. Welch should publicly repent. After all, the ninth commandment has not been excised from the inerrant Word of God, has it?

I know that some--maybe many--will consider me impolite (and worse) for addressing this issue in such strong language. But truth matters. And no one should get a pass on bearing false witness regardless of who he is or what positions he holds or has held. Welch's misrepresentation of fellow Southern Baptists is very harmful to our convention. It causes those who know better to mistrust leaders. Other SBC leaders who know that Welch's characterization is inaccurate should speak out publicly to correct him. However, if recent history is any indicator, this is not likely to happen. This kind of uncorrected character assassination will inevitably breed further frustration among the growing number of pastors and church leaders who continue to wonder why those denominational leaders who shout the loudest about the authority of the Bible stand by silently when its precepts are publicly shattered by one of their own. Will bureucratic loyalty always trump biblical fidelity?

What was the conservative resurgence all about? Was it not a fight to recover full commitment to the authority and accuracy of the Bible as the Word of God written? I say this reverently but with genuine concern as one who loves and seeks the welfare of the SBC: What difference does it make whether or not we have an inerrant Bible if our leaders are allowed to ignore and violate its teachings and to do so in the very public forum of our denominational journal? We have every right to expect more from champions of inerrancy.

Dr. Law and Dr. Grace

One of the greatest needs in our day in pastoral ministry is a reclamation of proper views of the relationship between law and gospel. Sadly, many otherwise well-trained men in the minstry have not delved into this subject that, in earlier days, was considered the very marrow of theology. Yesterday I heard about a man who recently preached an old sermon by Lester Roloff, the late evangelist from Texas who became famous for his work with wayward children and youth. It is entitled, "Dr. Law and Dr. Grace." Here is an excerpt with a link to the whole article.
I know I,m having some serious internal trouble and so I head for Dr. Law, and Dr. Law is always in his office and ready to see the sinner. The secretary told me that he was waiting for me. I stepped inside his office and started to relate my signs and symptoms to which he said, "I will not need your help," to which I said, "Do you think you can find out what is wrong with me?" And he said, "No, sir, I don’t have to think I KNOW what is wrong with you you have heart trouble. You're just like all the rest of my patients."

My old flesh rebelled and it didn't make sense to me that every one of his patients would have the same disease But after ail, dear friend, the law doesn't make sense to the sinner because . . . "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

So the flesh gets ready to argue the issue and I say, "Dr. Law, you just don’t understand. I'm having trouble with my hands. I spend a lot of time dealing a deck of cards and I've even used them to fight with. My hands are giving me trouble." And Dr. Law said, "No, it's your heart."
Read the rest of the sermon.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Baptists and Calvinism: An Open Debate

Plans for the much-discussed debate involving Drs. Ergun Caner, Emir Caner, James White and me have taken many turns over the last few months. I am happy to announce that the debate has been slightly restructured and is now confirmed by all four participants (yes, including me) for October 16, 2006 in Lynchburg, Virginia. Below is a statement that the four participants are jointly issuing to those who have shown interest in these events. Please note our request that you would join us in prayer as we move toward the debate. After the statement, I have a few more comments of a personal nature to add.

A Public Statement

Since February 27th of this year, plans have been underway to schedule a debate on Baptists and Calvinism. Drs. James White, Ergun Caner, Emir Caner and Tom Ascol initially agreed to participate in this event which was scheduled to be held at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia on October 16, 2006. Over the last five months, efforts to negotiate the terms of the debate at times degenerated into heated, antagonistic exchanges between the four participants. In both speech and tone too much of the communication has been perceived and/or characterized by sinful attitudes that have not honored the Lord Jesus Christ. We acknowledge our responsibility in this and deeply regret that we allowed it to happen. Each of us longs to represent Christ honorably and our intent is to conduct further negotiations in ways that will do so.

Through ongoing communication out of the public eye we have come to terms regarding the debate. It remains scheduled on October 16th and will involve all four of us. The topic will be, "Baptists and Calvinism: An Open Debate." The length will be three hours. The format will be modified Parliamentary. The place will be Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.

We are committed to engaging in a debate that will highlight the significant differences that exist between our respective views of how the Gospel of God works in bringing salvation to sinners. We believe that such debate can be conducted in a lively, vigorous exchange that need not violate the standard for Christian conduct that God has given us in His Word. Our goal is to do exactly this. The issues on which we disagree are important. It is because of our love for Christ and His truth that we believe these issues are worth debating. However, we regard this as a fraternal debate and intend to approach it not as antagonists, but as brothers with strong disagreements.

To that end we are asking those who have followed the issues surrounding this debate to join us in prayer that the Lord will guide us as final preparations are being made and that He will help us to conduct ourselves in a manner "worthy of the calling with which [we] have been called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Sincerely in Christ,
Ergun Caner
Emir Caner
James White
Tom Ascol
On a personal note, I first want to express gratitude to our Lord for the graciousness and humility that Ergun, Emir and James have shown as we negotiated these final arrangements. These men have been models to me in how to work through awkward and difficult relationships.

Secondly, I want to acknowledge publicly one particularly egregious and harmful contribution that I made to the breakdown of our previous discussions. The email exchange between Ergun and me that I posted on June 26, 2006 contained a letter that I sent to him that, sadly, added fuel to an already raging fire, rather than helping to calm that fire. The tone of the letter was unkind and one metaphor I employed was particularly ungracious and inappropriate for followers of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us to "let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29). My email failed miserably on both points. For that I am profoundly sorry. I have expressed my repentance to both Emir and Ergun and they have been gracious in their responses. Now, I am asking for your forgiveness as well.

Please join me in praying that this debate, that some would like to see turn into a type of "smack down," will instead be an occasion to highlight real differences in a manner that will advance not only the cause of truth but also the commitment to love and humility within the SBC and beyond.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Pray for your pastors

For the last couple of years my favorite devotional book has been Morning Thoughts, by Octavius Winslow. Joel Beeke and Reformation Heritage Books reprinted this classic work in 2003. It is also available online. His entries for August 1 and 2 are heartwarming appeals to pray for your pastors. As a pastor, he understands pastors and as such, encourages believers to intercede for those who shepherd their souls. Paul was not too proud to plead for prayer for himself. Neither should any pastor be.

I have posted both selections below.

August 1

"Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me." Romans 15:30

There are many weighty and solemn considerations which powerfully plead for the prayers of the Church of God, in behalf of her ministers and pastors. The first which may be adduced is- the magnitude of their work. A greater work than theirs was never entrusted to mortal hands. No angel employed in the celestial embassy bears a commission of higher authority, or wings his way to discharge a duty of such extraordinary greatness and responsibility. He is a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ- an ambassador from the court of heaven- a preacher of the glorious gospel of the blessed God- a steward of the mysteries of the kingdom. Properly to fill this high office- giving to the household their portion of food in due season- going down into the mine of God's word, and bringing forth to the view of every understanding its hidden treasures- to set forth the glory of Emmanuel, the fitness of His work, and the fullness of His grace- to be a scribe well instructed, rightly dividing the word of truth- to be wise and skillful to win souls, the grand end of the Christian ministry- oh, who so much needs the sustaining prayers of the Church as he?

Secondly. The painful sense of their insufficiency supplies another affecting plea. Who are ministers of Christ? Are they angels? Are they superhuman beings? Are they inspired? No, they are men in all respects like others. They partake of like infirmities, are the subjects of like assaults, and are estranged from nothing that is human. As the heart knows its own bitterness, so they only are truly aware of the existence and incessant operation of those many and clinging weaknesses of which they partake in sympathy with others. And yet God has devolved upon them a work which would crush an angel's powers, if left to his self-sustaining energy.

Thirdly. The many and peculiar trials of the ministry and the pastorate ask this favor at our hands. These are peculiar to, and inseparable from, the office that he fills. In addition to those of which he partakes alike with other Christians- personal, domestic, and relative- there are trials to which they must necessarily be utter strangers. And as they are unknown to, so are they unrelievable by, the people of their charge. With all the sweetness of affection, tenderness of sympathy, and delicacy of attention which you give to your pastor, there is yet a lack which Jesus only can supply, and which, through the channel of your prayers, he will supply. In addition to his own, he bears the burdens of others. How impossible for an affectionate, sympathizing pastor to separate himself from the circumstances of his flock, be those circumstances what they may. So close and so sympathetic is the bond of union- if they suffer, he mourns; if they are afflicted, he weeps; if they are dishonored, he is reproached; if they rejoice, he is glad. He is one with his Church. How feelingly the apostle expresses this: "Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of how the churches are getting along. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?" To see a Christian pastor, in addition to his own personal grief, borne often in uncomplaining loneliness and silence, yet bowed down under accumulated sorrows not his own- others looking to him for sympathy, for comfort, and for counsel- is a spectacle which might well arouse in behalf of every Christian minister the slumbering spirit of prayer. We marvel not to hear the chief of the apostles thus pleading, "Brethren, pray for us."

August 2

"You all are partakers of my grace." Philippians 1:7

Most true is it, that in the grace bestowed by God upon a Christian pastor all the members of the flock share. They partake of that which belongs to him. All the grace with which he is enriched- all the gifts with which he is endowed- all the acquirements with which he is furnished- all the afflictions with which he is visited- all the comforts with which he is soothed- all the strength with which he is upheld- all the distinction and renown with which he is adorned- belong alike to the Church over which God has made him an overseer. There is in the pastoral relation a community of interest. He holds that grace, and he exercises those gifts, not on account of his own personal holiness and happiness merely, but with a view to your holiness and happiness. You are partakers with him. You are enriched by his "fatness," or are impoverished by his "leanness." The degree of his grace will be the measure of your own; the amount of his intelligence, the extent of yours. As he is taught and blest of Christ, so will you be. The glory which he gathers in communion with God will irradiate you; the grace which he draws from Jesus will sanctify you; the wealth which he collects from the study of the Bible will enrich you. Thus, in all things are you "partakers of his grace." How important, then, that on all occasions he should be a partaker of your prayers! Thus your own best interests are his strongest plea. Your profit by him will be proportioned to your prayer for him.

To the neglect of this important duty much of the barrenness complained of in hearing the word may be traced. You have, perhaps, been wont to retire from God's house caviling at the doctrine, dissecting the sermon in a spirit of captious criticism, sitting in judgment upon the matter or the manner of the preacher, and bitterly complaining of the unprofitableness of the preaching. With all tender faithfulness would we lay the question upon your conscience, "How much do you pray for your minister?" Here, in all probability, lies the secret of the great evil which you deplore. You have complained of your minister to others (alas! how often and how bitterly, to your deep humiliation be it spoken); have you complained of him to the Lord? Have you never seriously reflected how closely allied may be the deficiency in the pulpit, of which you complain, to your own deficiency in the closet, of which you have not been aware? You have restrained prayer in behalf of your pastor. You have neglected to remember in especial, fervent intercession with the Lord, the instrument on whom your advancement in the divine life so much depends. You have looked up to him as a channel of grace, but you have failed to ask at the hands of Jesus that grace of which he is but the channel. You have waited upon his ministrations for instruction and comfort, but you have neglected to beseech for him that teaching and anointing, by which alone he could possibly establish you in truth, or console you in sorrow. You have perhaps observed a poverty of thought, and have been sensible of a lack of power in his ministrations; but you have not traced it in part to your own poverty and lack in the spirit and habit of prayer in his behalf. You have marveled at, and lamented, the absence of sympathy, feeling, and tenderness in the discharge of his pastoral duties, but you have forgotten to sympathize with the high responsibilities, oppressive anxieties, and bewildering engagements inseparable from the office which your pastor fills, and in which he may largely share, often "under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life." Thus in a great degree the cause of an unprofitable hearing of the word may be found nearer home than was suspected. There has been a suspension of prayer and sympathy on your part, and God has permitted a suspension of power and sympathy on his.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Radio interview on reformation, today at 1 PM

Paul Dean and Kevin Boling, hosts of the daily talk radio show, Calling for Truth, will interview me today at 1 PM Eastern time on their program. The topic will be working for reformation within the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond. You can listen to it live or find an archived version of it after today at the Calling for Truth website. Click on the "Listen Online" button on the top right. Or, if you are in the Greensville, SC area, you may listen at Christiantalk 660. The phone number to use in order to participate in the conversation is 1-888-660-WLFJ(9535).