Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I confess, I have a private prayer language

One of the controversies bubbling up in the Southern Baptist Convention has to do with "private prayer language." Steve McCoy recently revealed that NAMB is now asking about this in their applications for scholarships:
"Do you speak in an unknown tongue (glosolalia) or have a private prayer language?"
Well, I have a confession to make. I have a private prayer language. I didn't seek it. It didn't come in any kind of ecstatic jolt. I have had it for as long as I can remember. My private prayer language is the language I use when, well, praying in private.

Though all prayer ought to be authentic, there are appropriate differences that should characterize the way we pray in different settings. Our public prayer should employ different language than that offered in more intimate groups, and prayers offered in private should be different from both of these. Spurgeon recognized the difference between public and private prayer and devoted separate chapters to each in his Lectures to My Students.

When leading in public or corporate prayer one should remember that he is praying in behalf of those gathered. Corporate praise, corporate confession and petitions that are appropriate for the body in general should punctuate such praying. When leading a church in pastoral prayer, the minister, Spurgeon suggests, should consider the general needs and concerns that mark the congregation. "He should bring the joys and sorrows of his people alike before the throne of grace, and ask that the divine benediction may rest upon his flock...and that the forgiveness of God may be extended to their shortcomings and innumerable sins." Such prayers must seek to carry to the throne of grace all of those who are gathered for worship. Anything that would hinder spiritually minded people from following should be avoided.

In small groups, prayers can be more appropriately intimate and less formal than in larger gatherings. More personal needs can be specifically brought before the Lord and, given the nature of the relationships of those present, sins can be more specifically confessed and lamented. When families or spouses pray together, those issues that uniquely concern them are proper subjects of prayer. It is appropriate for four friends to pray together specifically about personal struggles and decisions in ways that would be inappropriate in a larger gathering.

When praying privately prayer can be completely intimate because it is completely private. This does not mean that it can be "cheeky" or flippant. God is still in heaven and we are still frail creatures of dust. But as children coming alone to a dearly loved and infinitely loving father, we may go to our God without regard of what others may think of our words or expressions. Our Lord prayed privately with words that were often not recorded and only partially recorded in Gethsemane. So it is with our own private prayers. They are characterized by expressions and language that is intimate and private. This is what D. M. M'Intyre means by the title of his book, The Hidden Life of Prayer.

Every Christian must pray this way, behind closed doors, if you will. Our Lord specifically instructs us to engage in private prayer. "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 6:6). That is what I mean when I say that I have a "private prayer language." My prayers "behind the door" are intimate, personal and transparent. I confess specific sinful attitudes and thoughts that plague my heart. I say things that would be completely inappropriate for me to say in corporate or even small group prayer. Sometimes, I don't even know what to say and find myself wordless in the presence of God as I pour my heart out to Him. At such moments I take great comfort in knowing that "the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26).

Now, for the record, my "private prayer language" is not any kind of ecstatic utterance. But it most definitely is private and intimate. It is not nearly as warm, consistent or vibrant as I want it to be and hope that it may yet become, but it is real. I am not a proponent of praying in a language that is unknown--which is typically what is meant by "private prayer language." But I would sooner rejoice that a brother is praying in private than to castigate him for doing so in a way that is unintelligible. Private, personal prayer is one of the chief means whereby our hearts are cultivated for godliness.

In this sense, every Christian should have a private prayer language. In fact, in my opinion anyone who doesn't should be disqualified from serving in any capacity in the SBC. Now there's a policy that surely every Southern Baptist can support!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Akin's 8 Theological Essentials for the SBC

Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke today at the "Theology Driven Ministry" conference hosted by the seminary. Other speakers include Sinclair Ferguson and Paul Tripp. Following is the handout that accompanied Dr. Akin's talk.

The eight points that he emphasizes are matters that must become the subject of serious dialogue and reflection if we hope to see spiritual health return to the SBC. One cannot read through this outline without coming away with great respect for Dr. Akin. He is both insightful and courageious to speak plainly about the problems that plague us and to call us back to submission to the teachings of God's Word. This is the kind of leadership that Southern Baptists desperately need at this time.

The issues that he raises ought to be taken to heart by every pastor and church member who longs to see Christ honored in our local churches. I look forward to hearing the audio of this message when it becomes available.

****

CAN THEOLOGICALLY DRIVEN PREACHING HELP RESCUE THE SBC?
By: Daniel L. Akin

The Conservative Resurgence gave Southern Baptist a second chance but it did not secure our future. Has there been a Resurgence? Yes. Has there been a Restoration? Doubtful. Have we experienced genuine Revival? Clearly the answer is no.

Eight Theological Essentials for Southern Baptists in the 21st Century

1) The non-negotiable of a regenerate Church (John 3; Rom. 3; 2 Cor. 5; Gal. 3)
  • First, we need to make it clear that church membership is a privilege, not a right.
  • Second, we must preach against easy believism and reject any form of a compromised gospel.
  • Third, we must be careful with respect to our own theological integrity concerning infant or early adolescent baptism that lacks a clear understanding and confession of the gospel.
2) The essential nature of believers baptism by immersion with a biblical appreciation for its significance. (Matt. 28; Acts, Rom. 6)
  • That baptism involved a particular member (a believer), mode (immersion) and meaning (public identification with Christ and the believing community) is grounded in New Testament witness and has been a hallmark of Baptists throughout their history.
  • We must see evidence of regeneration for those we baptize. The baptism of young children must be administered with the greatest possible care.
  • Baptism should be viewed and emphasized as a first and necessary step of discipleship and obedience to Christ. We will reject as inconceivable the idea of admitting anyone into our membership without believer’s baptism by immersion.
3) The recovery of the lost jewels of church discipline and genuine disciple-making as essential marks of the Church.
  • Church discipline is clearly and repeatedly taught in the New Testament, yet most do not preach on it or practice it. Jesus addresses it in Matt. 18:15-20 and Paul does so several times in 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Gal. 6:1-2; and Titus 3:9-11.
  • Theologically it is to disobey the plain teachings of Scripture and ignore the necessity of church discipline in maintaining the purity of the church.
  • First, we must preach and teach our people what the Bible says about church discipline.
  • Second, we must begin to implement church discipline lovingly, wisely, gently, carefully and slowly.
  • Third, we must apply discipline to areas like absentee membership as well as the specific list provided by Paul in 1 Cor. 5.
4) The emphasis and practice of a genuinely Word-based ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5)
  • For those of us who profess to believe in both the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, there must be in our churches what I call “engaging exposition.”
  • We must advocate an expositional method with a theological mindset under an evangelical mandate. It is preaching that models for our people how they should study, interpret and teach the Bible.
5) The vision for a faithful and authentic biblical ecclesiology (Acts. 2; Eph. 4; Pastorals)
  • First, there must be the 4 marks of 1) a regenerate Church membership, 2) the Word, 3) the Ordinances and 4) Church Discipline. Second the local church should be elder/pastor led and congregationally governed. Here, in my judgment, there is room for flexibility in terms of patterns, structure and implementation.
  • As we move forward in this century, Pastors will need to give particular attention to a theology of stewardship and discipleship.
  • The members of our churches must move from being shoppers to buyers to investors.
6) The continued nurturing of a fervent missionary and evangelistic passion that is wedded to a healthy and robust theology (1 Thess. 1; Eph. 4:11-16; Jude 3-4; Rev. 5)
  • No church will be evangelistic by accident.
  • First, there are multiple ways churches can do missions and evangelism. That we do it is the key.
  • Marketplace evangelism which can reach into the workplace is an area needing attention, strategizing and training.
  • Youth and student evangelism needs renewed emphasis.
  • Theologically and biblically, we must challenge our people to evangelize without bias or prejudice, loving and going after the exploding ethnic and minority groups where we live.
7) The teaching and preaching of a 1st century biblical model for church planting (Acts 17)
  • The 21st century is more like the 1st century than has ever been the case in our Western culture.
  • We are losing America and the West because we are losing the great metropolitan areas where there is a concentration of people.
  • First, explore creative methods, but make sure that they are faithfully filtered through the purifying waters of Holy Scripture.
  • Second, be wise fishers of men.
  • Third, we must ask God to raise a new generation of godly and gifted church planters and missionaries.
8) The wisdom to look back and remember who we were so that as we move forward we will not forget who we are
  • The Southern Baptist Convention today is not the Southern Baptist Convention of your parents, and certainly not your grandparents.
  • We now have several generations who know almost nothing of William Carey and Adoniram Judson, Bill Wallace, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. They do know nothing of Boyce, Broadus, and Manly; Carroll, Robertson, Frost, Mullins and Truett.
  • They have never heard Criswell, Rogers or Vines preach, and they are not really sure who they are.
  • In creative and dynamic avenues fitting a 21st century context, we need to retell the Baptist History story in a way that will grab the attention and stir the hearts of our people. And we need to do it, at least in part, from the pulpit.
Conclusion:
  • The North Carolina evangelist Vance Havner said, “What we live is what we really believe. Everything

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Interview with the Pathway

Scott Lamb recently interviewed me for The Pathway. The questions focused mostly on Founders Ministries and the Southern Baptist Convention. They have recently posted part of the interview on their website. Here is an excerpt with a link.

In what direction do you see Founders Ministries heading in the coming years?

Founders Ministries intends to continue encouraging Southern Baptists to be faithful to the Scriptures and working for the recovery of the biblical Gospel and the spiritual renewal of local churches. We also plan to become more involved in helping churches become actively involved in planting new churches. We will continue to expand our internet ministry, both in the materials that we make available through www.Founders.org (which is receiving over 800,000 hits per month) and our online Founders Study Center.

Do you see any encouraging trends in the SBC?

I am greatly encouraged to see how the conversation in the SBC has turned toward issues that Founders has been talking about for the last 25 years. It is gratifying to hear denominational leadership admitting publicly that most of our churches are in real trouble when it comes to the issue of regenerate church membership and biblical church discipline. At some point, the dialogue must necessarily shift to an honest consideration of how we got into this mess. Then, many of the unbiblical and unhealthy approaches to evangelism that have crept into our denomination can be reassessed.

Do you plan on submitting a resolution at the SBC annual meeting in San Antonio?

(read the rest)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Emerging Assessments

Last week Dr. Mark Devine, professor of theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, sent me a link to his article on the Emerging Church. It is scheduled for publication in the Midwestern Journal of Theology. Mark is a very insightful theologian and his gifts of analysis are a welcome contribution to the emerging "conversation." I highly recommend the article, "Fast Friends or Future Foes: The Emerging Church and Southern Baptists." It is carefully nuanced and avoids the dismissive caricatures that too often passes for critique when it comes to the emerging churches, such as those that appear in this Baptist Press article that was released yesterday.

Norm Miller, who wrote the BP article sets his parameters with this not-especially-helpful paragraph:
The emerging church movement is diverse and difficult to generalize. However, the mix of influences includes: postmodernism (a focus on sense-making through the various mediums of culture); Calvinism ala John Piper; and for some, Christian liberty, as granted by their scriptural interpretation, to drink alcohol and engage in other cultural activities that many Southern Baptists eschew based on opposing scriptural interpretation.
Difficult or not, Miller shows no hesitation in gratuitously linking postmodernism, Calvinism, alcohol(ism) and worldliness (at least as perceived by "many Southern Baptists") to broadbrush the emerging movement. Actually, this ploy is rather efficient because it allows both Calvinists and emerging folks to be demonized with one stroke.

The controversy swirling around Darrin Patrick, church planter and pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, is highlighted in the BP article. Both the Associated Press and Good Morning America have featured the church and noted its outreach efforts at a local pub. Despite Patrick's repeated declarations that neither he nor his church promotes drinking beverage alcohol, some vocal critics continue to imply--and even charge--that he does just that (Darrin, I feel your pain).

One of the most outspoken critics is Roger Moran, "Missouri Baptist and SBC Executive Committee member." He is quoted in the BP article as saying, "No Southern Baptist entity or personality should be loaning our denominational credibility to such churches or organizations as The Journey and Acts 29. We simply cannot do that for movements that are dripping with error and expect good to come out of it."

Hey, we have been doing it for each new fad churned out by "church growth" experts for the last 30 years. I do not know Mr. Moran, but he and I have mutual friends who speak highly of him. I am glad that he is concerned about "movements that are dripping with error" and the need to identify and distance ourselves from them. But I wonder, does he (or anyone else who shares his concerns) discern the errors that are dripping from the shallow evangelism movement that permeates our convention? Probably not because, as Devine so picturesquely notes, "Wherever the lure of potential numerical growth dangles, numerous Southern Baptist
knees go wobbly" and "numerical growth covers a multitude of sins."

Compare the damage being done to churches by the "emerging movement" to that which has already been done by Bible thumping, alcohol condemning, liberal hating, denominational boasting, Calvinist bashing conservatives. Simply do the math. Look at the membership-to-attendance ratios of the churches that are constantly being paraded as models within the SBC. When twice as many people are on the rolls as attend then "dripping with error" might be an apt description of what is going on.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not at all suggesting that emerging churches or Calvinistic churches or any kind of churches are beyond critique. In fact, the opposite is actually my point. It is time for conservative Southern Baptists to get honest and engage in some long-overdue, honest self-examination. When that happens, then we will inevitably be humbled by what we discover and, if there is any spirituality within us at all, will be compelled to confess our widespread neglect of the Word of God that we love and proclaim with confidence.

One of my hopes is that the rising generation of church leaders like Darrin Patrick will, perhaps unintentionally, provoke this very kind of effort. By taking Scripture more seriously than conventional customs they will force the rest of us to go back to the Bible to engage their beliefs and practices. If that can be done without dismissively treating their concerns and arguments, great benefit could result for the SBC and broader evangelical world.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Losing to the glory of God

The Lady Ambassadors lost the championship game rather decisively. We were tied until 5 seconds after the opening tip. Our opponents were simply superior to us. They were older, stronger, more experienced, better players with better coaches. The final score was 71-23. It was a great opportunity for us to lose to the glory of God! I believe that we did just that.

Despite several injuries and losing a player to fouls, our girls finished the game hustling and trying their best on both ends of the court. I believe that kind of effort when victory was hopeless glorifies God.

The girls maintained a respectful attitude toward the referees, the other team, the other team's coaches, their own coaches, the tournament officials and one another. That kind of self-control glorifies God.

When the final buzzer sounded and the other team's celebration reached a crescendo, our girls were weeping out of disappointment, discouragement and probably embarrassment. Yet, instead of immediately consoling one another they stood on the court and clapped for the victors. God was glorified in that.

After the game, in our team meeting, the girls were reminded that basketball is only a game. It's a great game and one that is loads of fun to play, but still, just a game. They were encouraged to remember that the Lord had enabled them to place second in the state in their league and to be grateful for that. Within 20 minutes expressions of gratitude began to flow freely. I believe that glorified God as well.

We had a great year. It is hard to end on a loss, even when that is the only loss of the season. But I got to be around another great group of girls and great parents. Since we only had three true high schoolers (a freshman, a sophomore and a junior), if all the girls come back the team should be much stronger from the first practice next year. It ought to be a great season.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Two down, one to go

The Lady Ambassadors won their first two games and now are scheduled to play Trinity Christian Academy from Miami tomorrow afternoon at 4:30 PM. Our girls played great in both games, winning 49-17 and 45-17. It was one of those days when it seemed like the longer we played, the better we got. Everyone on the team scored and, as I indicated, played well.

Tonight we are celebrating (mildly) and making game plans for the championship tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Basketball to the glory of God

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The last few weeks have been unusually busy times for me but this time of year typically brings extra responsibilities to my schedule due to our family's involvement with homeschool basketball.

When I grew up sports became a god to me. I enjoyed playing, but unfortunately my love for the game became way too important. Friday Night Lights had some very familiar scenes in it and brought back many memories--some pleasant and some painful--from my Texas high school football days. Since I grew up at a time and place where racial integration was forced in badly-handled ways, Remember the Titans also rang some familiar bells in my memory.

My unbalanced love for sports became so obsessive that I actually swore off all participation in any sport for nearly two years during college. I wouldn't even play in pick up games. That sports-fast helped me to regain a better perspective on life and also caused me to realize how easy it is to let something good become something bad. And when the good becomes bad it is the worst.

When Donna and I married I resolved not to let my kids fall into that same trap of making any sport an idol. To that end, our family never went to ball games, or watched games, or talked about ball games. All that began to change when my oldest girl turned twelve. A new family joined our church and their children knew all about sports. One day my eldest child came away from a conversation with her new friends and asked me to explain the difference between a football and a basketball. It was then that I knew I had gone overboard! It dawned on me that I was culturally handicapping my kids to the degree that they could not even have a meaningful conversation about basic American athletic activities.

The fruit of my repentance came in the form of signing up my two oldest girls for the local homeschool girls basketball team (that is a story in itself!). In a very unexpected, yet providential turn of events, I wound up becoming the coach of that team the next year and the rest is...well let's just say that it has been a fun ride. For the last nine years I have had the privilege of coaching the Lee County Homeschoolers Lady Ambassador basketball team.

The philosophy that governs our team is summed up in our team motto: Basketball to the glory of God. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31,
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Basketball is found in this verse in those words, "whatever you do." In other words, if you are going to do it, you better learn to do it to the glory of God. If it can't be done to God's glory, then you better not do it. I have tried to teach this to the girls by helping them to realize that the only way to play basketball to God's glory is to keep it in proper perspective. Specifically, we must remember that it is just a game, and games make very poor gods! Therefore it is less important than school, than church and than family. It is certainly less important than Christ and in fact, the reason that we even have the opportunity to enjoy basketball is because of God's goodness to us in Christ. How utterly foolish it would be, then, to take a gift of God's goodness and turn it into an idol that competes with God Himself! To value the gift more than the giver!

Yet, that is our tendency, isn't it? God gives us the good gift of a wife, or children, or a job, or health or anything, and we start loving the gift more than the Giver and even use our devotion to the gift as excuses to disobey the Giver. Isn't this Paul's explanation of how our sin works in Romans 1? We "exchange the truth of God for the lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator."

To fight against that sinful tendency I remind our girls that, contrary to the T-shirts, basketball is not life, Christ is. Basketball is just a game, but it is a great game! And by keeping it in perspective, we are free to give our very best efforts to playing it as well as we can. One reason that I enjoy sports so much is that they can teach you so much about life. Winning and losing. Adversity. Injustice. Success. Failure. Disappointment. Goals set, achieved, and not quite met. Tension. Pressure. Interdependence. Responsibility. All of these life experiences can be found in a single game of basketball. How we respond to them reveals what is inside our hearts, and in that way sports can be a help in sanctification.

Tonight we arrived at Haines City, Florida for the Florida Christian Athletic Association state basketball tournament. The Lady Ambassadors have been fortunate enough to win our regional championship and compete in the tournament again this year. Tomorrow we face Miami Lakes Christian School, a team we have grown to know and love over the last few years. Since only 8 teams are invited to the tournament, a win in the first round would put us into the semi-finals.

If time allows, I will post the results of our efforts tomorrow night. As the NCAA big dance is starting all over the country (with my Texas Aggies right in the thick of things for a change!), our little dance...uh, I mean, "party," begins tomorrow in central Florida.

Here is a website that tells a little about our team.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Shepherd's Conference

The first day of the Shepherd's Conference is over and the highlight was CJ Mahaney's message last night on Isaiah 66:1-2 on humility. I had heard a version of it before on CD years ago, but it is a tribute to the preacher and more importantly to the Word of God to gladly listen to the same message again. And I was definitely glad to hear it.

When I first heard the message, not only did I pass it around our church but I also contacted CJ and asked if he would contribute a chapter on humility to the book, Dear Timothy. He graciously agreed and that book became significantly better because of it. Later, at the encouragement of Mark Dever, CJ developed this theme even further by writing, Humility, True Greatness. If you have not read that book, you should do so before the month is over.

Steve Lawson preached in the afternoon on Peter's sermon from Acts 2. It was very good and pointed on the importance careful, pastoral, Christ-centered and applicatory preaching.

John MacArthur started the conference with his talk on Pre-millennialism. Tim Challies has given a very gracious summary of his words, and I echo his advice to "buy the CD." Like Tim, and countless others, I was surprised by Dr. MacArthur's choice of this topic in this venue. It was a very aggressive presentation of his view of eschatology. Some who are not pre-mill were offended by some of the unqualified, universal statements about those in history and on the contemporary scene who do disagree with this view. The Q and A times today and tomorrow ought to be very interesting.

CJ Mahaney turned the issue, which nearly everyone is talking about, into an occasion for humor as he began last night. As a fill in for John Piper, who is burying his father in South Carolina, CJ said something like, "No matter what your eschatology, I don't think anyone could have seen this [his preaching at the Shepherd's Conference] coming!" He said that MacArthur's invitation to him to preach in his church last year had turned him into a "post-millennialist," because it is the only theological construct that makes sense of what has happened in the two of them developing a friendship. It was good stuff, timely, and very disarming.

Today, Ligon Duncan starts things off. The question on many peoples' minds is this: Will he address the millennial issue as a non-premil guy?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

John Piper's tribute to his dad

John Piper's father died yesterday morning. Here is a tribute that Pastor John wrote in his diary shortly after his death. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says,
Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart.
Death brings eternity close and focuses the mind on eternal realities. John Piper's words about his father and his resolve to serve his father's God is an encouragement to dads and moms everywhere so to live that we might influence our sons and daughters to love the Savior more than life and be willing to live and die to make Him known.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Founders Fellowship during the Shepherd's Conference

I plan to attend the Shepherd's Conference next week in California. It looks like another great line-up and Founders will be giving away another free book. On Thursday night, after the last session, Founders is sponsoring an informal get-together at the Airtel Plaza Hotel. If you are planning on attending the conference and want to spend some time hanging out, plan on joining us. Below are the details, along with a map and directions. The hotel is only about 15 minutes from the church.

Hope to see you there!

Where: Airtel Plaza Hotel in the Gulfstream V Room
When: March 8, 2007
Time: 8:30pm (or as soon as we can meet after the close of the last session)

click here to get the full MapQuest directions page.

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An example worthy of following

Ben Cole, Pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, recently sent a letter to the inactive members on their church's roll. It is a model of pastoral faithfulness, admonishing members who may have grown spiritually apathetic to rekindle their devotion to Christ and His church.

I am glad that more and more people are beginning to speak out on church discipline and our need to recover our commitment to a regenerate church membership. My fear is that, for some, this may remain only a theoretical interest. Ben demonstrates the kind of steps that must be taken in order for these biblical teachings to be reinstituted in a local church.

My fellow pastors, we must be willing to lead our churches in these paths if we are going to be faithful to our Lord. Failure to do so is a failure of duty. It does not matter how loudly one proclaims his commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord or the Bible as His inerrant Word. If there is a blatant, ongoing neglect of the simple, plain teachings of our Lord regarding church membership (Matthew 18:15-18, for example), then Christ is being dishonored and His glory trampled.

Thanks, Ben. May your example encourage many other pastors and churches to take the necessary and difficult steps of seeking to recover wayward members and honoring Christ in His church.