Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Truth Endures

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Dr. John MacArthur’s ministry as the pastor of Grace Community Church. While many are familiar with his excellent commentaries and other exegetical writings, most don’t recognize him as a pastor. But pastoring is where his heart is. He has shown his love for the people of Grace by doing what a shepherd is called to do. He has led them beside still waters by fending off the wolves of doctrinal error and false teaching. He has led them to green pastures by systematically preaching through the entire New Testament during his time there. I recently heard him comment that he was just finishing preaching through his last book of the New Testament. Part of me expected the rapture to occur immediately as he completed that last sermon—but I guess he can either start over now or move on to the Old Testament.

I thank God for the faithfulness He has given Dr. MacArthur. As the average pastoral tenure vacillates between 18 months and two years, he has stood in the same pulpit before the same people for 40 years. As headlines are seemingly made every day by men who blaspheme God’s call and the pulpit He’s given them by their blatant immorality, he has lived above reproach. As church services throughout the country have been trivialized as just another form of entertainment, he has faithfully taught the Scripture week-in and week-out.

May God allow and enable me to follow John MacArthur’s example even as Paul told us to follow his.

Philippians 4:9

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Spurgeon Saturday

Jeremiah 23:6

It will always give a Christian the greatest calm, quiet, ease, and peace, to think of the perfect righteousness of Christ. How often are the saints of God downcast and sad! I do not think they ought to be. I do not think they would if they could always see their perfection in Christ. There are some who are always talking about corruption, and the depravity of the heart, and the innate evil of the soul. This is quite true, but why not go a little further, and remember that we are “perfect in Christ Jesus.” It is no wonder that those who are dwelling upon their own corruption should wear such downcast looks; but surely if we call to mind that “Christ is made unto us righteousness,” we shall be of good cheer. What though distresses afflict me, though Satan assault me, though there may be many things to be experienced before I get to heaven, those are done for me in the covenant of divine grace; there is nothing wanting in my Lord, Christ hath done it all. On the cross he said, “It is finished!” and if it be finished, then am I complete in him, and can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, “Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” You will not find on this side of heaven a holier people than those who receive into their hearts the doctrine of Christ’s righteousness. When the believer says, “I live on Christ alone; I rest on him solely for salvation; and I believe that, however unworthy, I am still saved in Jesus;” then there rises up as a motive of gratitude this thought—“Shall I not live to Christ? Shall I not love him and serve him, seeing that I am saved by his merits?” “The love of Christ constraineth us,” “that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto him which died for them.” If saved by imputed righteousness, we shall greatly value imparted righteousness.[1]

[1]Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening : Daily Readings. Complete and unabridged; New modern edition., January 31 AM. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

What Is Ex Libris?

Today, I'm kicking off an exciting new addition to The Banner. Ex Libris is Latin for "Out Of Books" which is what this site is all about. In an effort to keep things more accessable and organized, this page will now hold all the book reviews. I also intend to include links to other beneficial reviews on other blogs and sites. Basically, this space will be reserved for one of my life's passions--books!

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Friday with the Fathers

Isaiah 40:11

The Good Shepherd—Clement of Alexandria

Feed us, Your children, as sheep. Master, fill us with righteousness from Your own pasture. Instructor, give us food on Your holy mountain, the church, which towers in the air, is above the clouds, and touches heaven.

“And I will be,” He says, “their Shepherd,” and will be as near to them as clothes to their skin. He wants to save my flesh by enveloping it in the robe of immortality, and He has anointed my body. “they shall call Me,” He says, “and I will say, Here am I.”

You heard sooner than I expected, Master.

“And if they pass over, they shall not slip,” says the Lord. For we who are passing over to eternal life will not fall into corruption because He will sustain us. For so He has said and so He has willed.

Our Instructor is righteously good. “I came not,” He says, “to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Therefore, He is introduced in the Gospel as “wearied,” because He toiled for us and promised “to give His life as a ransom for many.”

For Christ alone is the Good Shepherd. He is generous and gives us the greatest of all gifts, His own life. He is extremely good and loving to men, while, when He might have been Lord, He wished to become a brother to humanity. He was so good that He died for us.

Readings taken from Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Unspoken Downside to a Large Youth Group

Unidentified youth group returning home Saturday afternoon from YEC 2009.

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Ex Libris: Made For His Pleasure

In his book, Made For His Pleasure: Ten Benchmarks of a Vital Faith, Alistair Begg's simple yet profound style is evident. For mature Christians, the subjects he covers should be nothing new. For many of us, it could be said that the topics are even elementary. That is not to say the book is elementary. On the contrary, each chapter brought me under conviction.

I knew I was in trouble from the opening pages of the first chapter. To illustrate the Christian's need for spiritual fitness, Begg points out the need for physical fitness. Of course he subordinates physical fitness to spiritual fitness, but nonetheless the conviction had begun. And it only continued as he covered prayer, personal sacrifice, the marriage relationship, service, laziness, evangelism and others.

Particularly poignant was Begg's chapter on humility. After the Bible, that chapter should be required reading for all believers. In the brief space of 184 pages, Alistair Begg successfully accomplishes his goal of providing the benchmarks required to have vital faith.

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Coffee With Calvin

John 1:18

The Lively Image of God

Certainly when Christ is called the lively image of God (Heb. 1:3) this refers to the peculiar privilege of the New Testament. In like manner, the Evangelist describes something new and uncommon when he says that the only-begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, has made known to us what was formerly concealed. He therefore magnifies the manifestation of God which has been brought to us by the Gospel, in which he distinguishes us from the fathers and shows that we are superior to them (as also Paul explains more fully in the third and fourth chapters of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians). For he maintains that there is now no longer any veil, such as existed under the Law, but that God is openly beheld in the face of Christ.

That vision which Moses obtained on the mountain was remarkable and more excellent than almost all the rest. And yet God expressly declares, “Thou shall not be able to see my face, only thou shall see my back” (Ex. 33:23); by this metaphor he shows that the time for a full and clear revelation had not yet come. It must also be observed that when the fathers wished to behold God they always turned their eyes towards Christ. I do not only mean that they beheld God in his eternal Speech, but also that they attended with their whole mind and with their whole heart to the promised manifestation of Christ. For this reason we shall find that Christ afterwards said, “Abraham saw my day” (John 8:56); and that which is subordinate is not contradictory.

It is therefore a fixed principle that God, who was formerly invisible, has now made himself visible in Christ. When he says that the Son was in the bosom of the Father, the metaphor is borrowed from men, who are said to receive unto their bosom those to whom they communicate all their secrets. The breast is the seat of counsel. He therefore shows that the Son was acquainted with the most hidden secrets of his Father, in order to inform us that we have the breast of God laid open to us in the Gospel.

Readings taken from Day by Day With John Calvin

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Acts 1:8 Prayer Covenant

Dear Father, because you have commanded me to witness to all the world and make disciples, I covenant to do the following five things:

  1. I will daily embrace Your cleansing, fullness and power.

  2. I will pray for myself and my church to have a missional focus and aggressively witness to all the world.

  3. I will fervently pray for the lost and continually seek ways to bring them to Christ.

  4. I will seek to be a daily witness wherever I go.

  5. I will give sacrificially to evangelism and missions.

Adapted from Iceberg Dead Ahead! (The Urgency of "God-seeking Repentance"), by Gregory Frizzell

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Free Whitefield!

In conjunction with John Piper's upcoming Desiring God Conference, Logos Bible Software is offering Selected Sermons of George Whitefield as a free download. This offer is open to everyone--not just conference attendees. Even if you are not currently a Logos user, this is a great opportunity to get your feet wet!

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Edwards Wednesday

John 14:2

God’s House

Heaven is the house where God dwells with his family. God is represented in Scripture as having a family; and though some of this family are now on earth, yet in so being they are abroad and not at home, but all going home….

Heaven is the place that God has built for himself and his children. God has many children, and the place designed for them is heaven; therefore the saints, being the children of God, are said to be of the household of God. “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).

God is represented as a householder or head of a family and heaven is his house. It is the house not only where God has his throne, but also where he as it were keeps his table, where his children sit down with him and where they are feasted in a royal manner becoming the children of so great a King. “That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:30); “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).

God is the King of kings, and heaven is the place where he keeps his court.

Readings taken from Day By Day With Jonathan Edwards

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Nations Rage—Belgium Edition

As most of us were walking through our normal routine this past Friday, a 20-year old man named Kim de Gelder rang the doorbell of the Fabeltjesland nursery in Dendermonde, Belgium, asking for information. When the staff opened the door, de Gelder ran inside and “quickly pulled out a knife and started using it on the children.” Within minutes, he had brutally stabbed 12 small children, killing a 6-month and a 9-month old baby. Doctors reported that the 10 surviving babies each had “multiple stab wounds on their legs, arms and all over their bodies.”

As Belgium continues to mourn this heinous act, many are asking questions. Why would a person choose helpless babies as his target? How could this happen? Before this horrific act becomes clouded by the blame-game which is sure to follow, let me offer a few observations:

Public outrage is inconsistent—On Sunday, BBC News reported that, “Thousands of people have marched in silence,” in mourning over the slaying of a 6-month old and a 9-month old baby. Ironically, those terrible murders occurred three days after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade which legalized the brutal murder of 50 million babies. Where is the public outrage and heartbroken mourning for those similarly senseless lost lives (Matthew 7:1-2)?

The world is not getting better—Biological and social evolution has promised that society continually progresses until eventually culminating in Utopia. This incident (and the testimony of reality) speaks to the contrary (2 Peter 3:5-7). Education, wealth and social services are promised as the keys to eliminating brutality in society. Belgium has one of the best educated populations in the world. They maintain one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. They have cradle-to-grave social services, including some of the most respected government run preschool programs—one of which was where this atrocious violence took place. By current global standards, Belgium is the gold-standard for a socially evolved country. But acts like this prove that no matter how well you pay, educate and medicate a totally depraved person, he is still totally depraved (Romans 8:7-8).

Demons are real—We see the Gospel accounts of demons and, since we don’t think we see similar activity today, assume that they are no longer at work. Some have even gone so far as to say that demon possession has never been real—it was just a primitive way of expressing what we call mental illness. Screwtape would be proud. Even though man’s nature is depraved, most of the time he is not as bad as he can be because he is still the image bearer of God. There is still an innate sense of morality and restraint. That goes out the window when beings who are not God’s image bearers are allowed to take control of a person. They do not have the same innate sense of morality. The only restraint they show is from the restraining hand of Almighty God. While demon possession in no way absolves de Gelder of his responsibility (Romans 2:15-16), it is the only explanation as to how a person could engage in such brutality.

God is still on His throne—Even in the midst of horror and mayhem, God mercifully restrains evil (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Friday’s events did not take God by surprise. As the all-knowing God, He knew it before the foundations of the world. He also knows how He is working even the evil actions of Kim de Gelder together for His good (Romans 8:28). In addition to God’s “big-picture” control, He mercifully restrained evil in that nursery on Friday. Imagine what devastation one demon-possessed, hell-bent for destruction man with a knife in a nursery could do. The articles have not indicated whether nursery workers restrained the man. But regardless of their actions, de Gelder easily could have slaughtered each child in that place. God’s merciful restraint, whether exercised through the actions of others or not, is the only explanation why most of those babies are living today.

People need Jesus—In response to the social utopians—no amount of social programming will fix the problem. No amount of education will fix the problem. No level of personal wealth will fix the problem. Since the problem is sin, the only solution is the only One who was capable of atoning for that sin. By simply inheriting a sinful nature, we have offended a holy God. God is infinite, so offense against Him is infinite. When an infinite Being is infinitely offended, only an infinitely worthy sacrifice will propitiate Him. Jesus—God in the flesh (John 1:18)—provided that infinitely worthy atoning sacrifice. And as such, He is the only answer of grace and peace to the raging nations.

Psalm 2:1-12

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Tuesday Mornings with Augustine

Proverbs 21:21

Desired Glory

Let the desire for glory be surpassed by the love of righteousness. When our love of glory exceeds the fear or love of God in our heart, it becomes an evil that is hostile to faith. The Lord said, “How can ye believe, who look for glory from one another, and do not seek the glory which is from God alone?”

The holy apostles proclaimed the name of Christ where it was only discredited and neglected…. Even amidst curses, accusations, persecutions, and cruel treatment, they weren’t deterred from preaching human salvation by the noise of human anger. As they spoke about and did godly things and lived godly lives, they conquered hard hearts and introduced them to the peace of righteousness.

Then great glory followed them in the church of Christ. They didn’t rest in that reward as the goal of their holiness. They referred the glory to God. For by His grace they were what they were. Therefore, they sought to kindle minds to love God. By Him these people could be made to be what the apostles were.

Readings taken from Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers

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Monday, January 26, 2009

More On Stem Cells...

First Things has an excellent post on embryonic stem cell research. Take the time to follow each of the included links.

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The Stem Cell Millstone

That didn’t take long.

According to an AP article this past week, Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, CA, “gained federal permission this week to inject eight to 10 patients with cells derived from embryonic cells.”

The article claims that the change of administration had nothing to do with the FDA’s approval. The stem cells involved were part of the exception loophole in President Bush’s policy. But while that slant seems to be directed at stemming controversy, the timing of the news release cannot be coincidental. Abortion proponents must be euphoric. During the anniversary week of Roe v. Wade, their greatest legal victory, they have been able to celebrate the inauguration of the most pro-abortion administration in American history. Now, with this news, they are also able to justify themselves with the promise of a greater good. After all, they might reason, what could be better than using unwanted tissue to enhance the life of someone who is suffering?

In reality, what is happening is an exponential increase of selfishness. Embryos from which stem cells are harvested originate from one of two sources (most are cloned after the fact, but that does not detract from their original source). They originally either come from abortion or are “leftovers” from certain fertility procedures. Either way, life is conceived out of selfishness and then destroyed out of selfishness.

While abortion in all its forms can easily be recognized as selfishness, embryonic stem cell research is not as easily recognizable. But make no mistake about it—it is the worst type of selfishness. What can be more selfish than desiring to improve one’s life by destroying the life of another?

In the Old Testament we are disgusted as we read the prophesies of women eating their own babies to fend off starvation (Jeremiah 19:9). In history, we see how those prophesies were fulfilled during at least two sieges of Jerusalem, the final one in AD 70 (Lamentations 2:20; Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6:3:4). But how is that unimaginable act worse than what is being done in the modern laboratory? It isn’t. As a matter of fact, even if evil is judged pragmatically (which it isn’t), at least the baby-devourer of the past knew that she would receive physical benefit. That cannot be said for the baby-devourer of today.

Researchers readily acknowledge that the only stem cells proven to generate effective results have been taken from either adults or umbilical cords. Even the study reported in today’s AP article is being conducted with the lowest expectations. “The study is aimed at testing the safety of the procedure, but doctors will also look for signs of improvement like return of sensation or movement in the legs.” In other words, babies are being devoured primarily to see if it is safe to devour a baby. And as an unexpected bonus, the devourer might get a slight physical benefit. At least when the selfish Jewish women devoured their own children, they knew it would preserve their own life by fending off starvation. Today, we are killing and devouring our children with far lower expectations.

As Ed Baetge, the chief scientific officer of Novocell Inc. said, “It’s a milestone and it’s a breakthrough for the field.” He doesn’t know how right he is—except the word he should have used was “millstone”.

Luke 17:2

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Martyrs Monday

Matthew 5:16

“I lost all my friends at school. Now that I’ve begun to ‘walk my talk,’ they make fun of me.” Rachel’s journal entries showed her disappointment that the very people to whom she wanted to show Christ’s love turned away from her. But she wouldn’t give in.

“I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus. I will take it. If my friends have to become my enemies for me to be with my best friend, Jesus, then that’s fine with me. I always knew being a Christian means having enemies, but I never thought that my ‘friends’ were going to be those enemies.”

Rachel was a student at Columbine High School on the day two students opened fire in the school. One gunman asked her if she still believed in God. She looked him in the eye and said yes, she still believed. He asked her why, but he didn’t let her answer before killing her.

Rachel Scott passed her test, and because she did, her light reached beyond her school to around the world. Long before the test came, Rachel expressed her willingness to give her all for Christ. The words from her journal, written exactly one year before her death, tell about her commitment: “I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything, I will.”

Faith is the invisible expression of our personal relationship with Christ. The Bible characterizes people’s faith as a light—a diffusion of hope that affects everyone around them. Jesus chose this illustration because of light’s inability to be restrained. For example, reading by flashlight under the covers, unknown to the average child, is hardly effective in terms of disguising late night activity! Light simply shines by its very nature—despite our attempts to restrain it. Likewise, tension arises in believers’ lives when they must choose to fully express their faith or attempt to muffle it some way. With the reliability of the daily sunrise, those who have affirmed their decision once and for all find shining their light to be second nature.

Readings taken from
Extreme Devotion: The Voice of the Martyrs

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

YEC 2009

The youth of Brushfork Baptist made it safely back from the 2009 WVCSB Youth Evangelism Conference. They had a wonderful time of fun, fellowship and feasting on the Word of God. I have three prayers concerning YEC 2009.

1) I pray that the ones who attended don’t leave their commitments to the Lord somewhere between the altar and the door.
2) I pray that their fire and excited passion for the Lord will spread throughout our church.
3) I pray that our Fall Youth Rally will grow to the point it will soon influence lives on the scale of YEC.

Here is a video slideshow of their trip.

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This Week's Memory Verse

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Puritan Passages

Psalm 23:6

Helps to Prayer—Gervase Babington

Have an eye to the sweet promises of God, concerning the suits of His children to Him, which are so many and so entire, as no heart, if it be not flint or steel, but must receive comfort and courage to speak unto such a Lord. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you” (Matt 7:11; John 16:23), and a thousand such like.

Muse upon them until the fire kindle within you, and then speak with a spirit to so sweet a God as so cheers His children to pray heartily. And remember it often what once was said: “I will come into thy house even upon the multitude of thy mercy, and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple” (Psalm 5:7).

The multitude of God’s mercies make a sweet entrance into the house of prayer: yes, say you with David joyfully and comfortably, “In God’s word will I rejoice, in the Lord’s word will I comfort myself, in God have I put my trust, I will not fear what man can do unto me” (Psalm 56:10-11).

Sometimes our weakness is great and our minds begin to strap from our prayer conceived in silence, and then it shall be good to speak out, yes even to cry out that which we but thought before, to the end that so we may stay a straying mind and bring it to the sound of the tongue.

This has been the wisdom of the godly ever, and a means as we read to help them. The prophet David says, “I cried to the Lord with my voice, and I said, thou art my hope and my portion in the land of the living” (Psalm 142:1,5). So that he uses the pronounciation of words happily even for this cause that we speak of. Augustine says, “Our devotion and affection is stirred up and quickened by the voice.” And experience serves for longer proof in this matter.

The gestures of body, as kneeling, lying prostrate upon the earth, knocking of the breast, and covering the face, or turning to the wall, lifting up the eyes, and such like, they are helps also of affection. Yea, then are they lawful, and right in deed, when they serve to this purpose in sincerity, and not to any outward show in hypocrisy.

Readings taken from Day by Day with the English Puritans

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Saturday, January 24, 2009


Recently, a fellow pastor and I were talking about a phone call he had received. Apparently the caller was new to the area and was looking for a church to attend. Understandably, she had many questions to ask, but the sad thing was that none of them had to do with anything substantive. They dealt exclusively with size, style, dress, and activities—not one question concerning faith and practice. Nothing was asked about evangelism, discipleship or the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Soon after that conversation, I read this series of facetious World Magazine articles called The Church of You, The Church of You: Weddings, and Funerals. They go hand-in-hand with this “commercial” advertising a new kind of praise and worship CD.

Humor is funniest when it contains an element of truth.

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Spurgeon Saturday

Psalm 91:3

God delivers his people from the snare of the fowler in two senses. From, and out of. First, he delivers them from the snare—does not let them enter it; and secondly, if they should be caught therein, he delivers them out of it. The first promise is the most precious to some; the second is the best to others.

“He shall deliver thee from the snare.” How? Trouble is often the means whereby God delivers us. God knows that our backsliding will soon end in our destruction, and he in mercy sends the rod. We say, “Lord, why is this?” not knowing that our trouble has been the means of delivering us from far greater evil. Many have been thus saved from ruin by their sorrows and their crosses; these have frightened the birds from the net. At other times, God keeps his people from the snare of the fowler by giving them great spiritual strength, so that when they are tempted to do evil they say, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” But what a blessed thing it is that if the believer shall, in an evil hour, come into the net, yet God will bring him out of it! O backslider, be cast down, but do not despair. Wanderer though thou hast been, hear what thy Redeemer saith—“Return, O backsliding children; I will have mercy upon you.” But you say you cannot return, for you are a captive. Then listen to the promise—“Surely he shall deliver thee out of the snare of the fowler.” Thou shalt yet be brought out of all evil into which thou hast fallen, and though thou shalt never cease to repent of thy ways, yet he that hath loved thee will not cast thee away; he will receive thee, and give thee joy and gladness, that the bones which he has broken may rejoice. No bird of paradise shall die in the fowler’s net.[1]

[1]Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening : Daily Readings. Complete and unabridged; New modern edition., January 24 AM. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

God's Oxymorons

White… Christian… rapper.


There has to be an oxymoron in there somewhere. But certainly no more than retired military… introverted… pastor. One of the most mysterious things about God’s gracious call is that He is completely unpredictable. If I was picking a lineup of people to represent me and present my message to the world, I would pick smart people, pretty people, talented people, wonderfully extroverted magnetic personality people. But thank God that my ways aren’t His ways. Thank God that in His sovereignty, He has chosen to use frail vessels to carry and dispense His Gospel (2 Cor. 4:7). For some reason, He has chosen me—which is far more inexplicable that His choosing a white Christian rapper.

Even though my praise chorus head will hurt and my Southern Gospel ears will probably bleed, I am excited to hear KJ-52 rap the Gospel to the 1000+ attendees of the WVCSB Youth Evangelism Conference this weekend. Join with me in prayer that, through the use of these frail vessels, the Lord will draw many to His salvation and service.

And as far as that white Christian rapper—go ahead boy… Do Yo Thang.

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Presidential Priority?

Between Two Worlds has an informative post on President Obama's public statement in recognition of the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Here is his statement--I encourage you to read the post:

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.

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Friday with the Fathers

James 5:10


Even if a prize wasn’t offered to those who fight for true religion, Truth alone would persuade her lovers to welcome any danger for her. The divine Apostle Paul attests to this. He says… “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” My friend, see the flame of this affection; see the torch of love.

Paul doesn’t covet what is His. I only long for Him, he says. And this love of mine is an unquenchable love. I would gladly pass up every present and future happiness, yes, suffer and endure all kinds of pain again in order to keep this flame with me in all its force. Paul exemplified this in action and in word. For he left memorials of his sufferings behind him. When I remember him and the rest of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and priests, I can’t help but delight in what we commonly consider miserable. I am ashamed when I remember how those who never learned the lessons we have learned, but followed human nature alone, have won notable places in the race of virtue.

Readings taken from Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ex Libris: A City Upon a Hill

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Have sermons really changed the course of American history? That is the thesis Larry Witham attempts to prove in his book, A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History.

It is a fascinating study as he moves the reader from colonial times through the 20th century. In less than 300 pages, the author justly encapsulates sermonic trends from Robert Hunt, proclaimed as Jamestown’s “good pastor” by Captain John Smith, to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jerry Falwell. Each defining period of American history is marked by new preachers and their new messages. The question is; did the sermons change the culture, or did the culture change the messages? Who influenced whom?

Witham attempts to make the case that the sermons influenced culture enough to induce change. I was struck with the opposite impression. Other than the period extending from the colonial Puritans to the Great Awakening, each preacher cited seemed to either be responding to or a product of the zeitgeist.

Revolutionary preachers fomented the masses as America prepared to gain independence from England. Preachers used their pulpits to equate America’s western frontier with the Old Testament Promised Land during the days of Manifest Destiny. Preachers from the North and the South preached conflicting messages of abolition and justification of slavery. The industrial age, sweat shops and urban squalor saw pulpits proclaiming the social gospel and movements for civic change. Wartime brought with it patriotic preaching while peacetime saw the prosperity gospel being proclaimed.

Despite the author’s attempt to the contrary, I see each as an example of preachers being carried away with the spirit of the age. Rather than influencing culture, each was driven by the circumstances around them.

As a pastor, I recommend this book, not as a way to point out how influential the pulpit can be—but to remind us of how influential the world can be on our preaching. The fact remains that the Word of God, illumined by the Spirit of God is the only instrument that can truly impact history in the right way. As preachers, we fall into a trap when we use the pulpit to influence politics, drive movements and direct societal change. This book unintentionally illustrates that when those things become our focus, we are swept along with the cursed world in which we live.

The solution is to stay focused on the type of preaching in which our earliest American forefathers specialized. That is not to say our sermons should be two hours long and have 20 or more points, but they can have the basic puritanical traits.

Witham lists those traits in his first chapter as he quotes The Art of Prophesying, by English Puritan William Perkins.

1. To read the Text distinctly out of the canonical Scripture
2. To give the sense and understanding of it being read by the Scripture itself
3. To collect a few and profitable points of doctrine out of the natural sense
4. To apply (if he have the gift) the doctrine rightly collected to the manners of men in a simple and plain speech

With the Text as guide and primary interpreter, the preacher can resist the temptation to be swept away in the zeitgeist. As he is faithful to resist, his sermons will truly change the course of history—eternally, if not temporally.

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Where's the Banner?!?

Come on people... you really need to get on the ball! The Banner's not even in the Top 60 Church Blogs? I'm crushed...

But seriously, there are some very good blogs listed here—several that I have linked to in the sidebar. Check them out!

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Coffee With Calvin

John 1:16

True Abundance

He begins now to preach about the office of Christ—that it contains within itself an abundance of all blessings—so that no part of salvation must be sought anywhere else. True, indeed, the fountain of life, righteousness, virtue, and wisdom is with God; but to us it is a hidden and inaccessible fountain. But an abundance of those things is exhibited to us in Christ, so we may be permitted to have recourse to him; for he is ready to flow to us, provided that we open up a channel by faith.

He declares in general that out of Christ we ought not to seek anything good, though this sentence consists of several clauses.

First, he shows that we are all utterly destitute and empty of spiritual blessings; for the abundance which exists in Christ is intended to supply our deficiency, to relieve our poverty, to satisfy our hunger and thirst.

Secondly, he warns us that, as soon as we have departed from Christ, it is ill vain for us to seek a single drop of happiness, because God hath determined that whatever is good shall reside in him alone. Accordingly, we shall find angels and men to be dry, heaven to be empty, the earth to be unproductive, and, in short, all things to be of no value if we wish to be partakers of the gifts of God in any other way than through Christ.

Thirdly, he assures us that we shall have no reason to fear the want of anything, provided that we draw from the fullness of Christ, which is in every respect so complete that we shall experience it to be a truly inexhaustible fountain. And John classes himself with the rest, not for the sake of modesty, but to make it more evident that no man whatever is excepted.

Readings taken from Day by Day With John Calvin

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Politics, Pastors, and Expediency

Ah... the irony of it all....

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Weekly Public Prayer Meetings

How To Meet God In Your Weekly Prayer Meetings[1]

See these meetings as a relationship journey with God, not a program or formula

As you pray and read God’s Word, ask God to shine His light on what He wants you to change. When He reveals a sin, immediately confess it and trust Christ for victory over that sin. Above all, do not be discouraged if you discover many areas of needed change. Growth is a lifelong process, not a one-time event. God will definitely give you the grace to experience victory and He accepts you through the whole journey—struggles and all!

Use a prayer notebook or journal

As God reveals areas of sin, note it in your journal and be specific. Be sure to identify specific ways to overcome the sinful patterns God reveals. Remember, it is not enough merely to confess a sin, it must also be forsaken (repentance). For each sin you identify, find a Scripture passage that promises victory and strength. Replace sinful patterns with a specific godly pattern. Use Scripture to resist the enemy. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit and your weapons of warfare are mighty for the pulling down of strongholds! (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Specifically ask God for deep conviction of sin and clear spiritual discernment

According to John 16:3 and 1 Corinthians 2:11, only God can bring true conviction and spiritual discernment. According to Jeremiah 17:9, we cannot even begin to know our own hearts without God’s illumination. Above all, don’t approach this journey as a mere mental exercise

See the time of confession and repentance as a daily relationship with God, not a one-time experience

Daily confession and cleansing are the essence of walking in the Spirit. This type of continual cleansing is the very essence of discipleship, growth and sanctification. Bible centered cleansing and prayer are the primary ways we are sanctified into Christ’s image.

Approach the times of confession with great assurance of God’s mercy and blessing

(Isaiah 1:18) Don’t be afraid of what God might show you. Whatever He reveals, Christ already died for it! And God already knows about it anyway. God doesn’t convict you to condemn you, but to set you free! (John 8:36)

Be prepared for spiritual warfare

(1 Peter 5:8) You need to be aware that Satan hates what you’re setting out to do in this journey. He is terrified you might get clean before God and fully empowered by the Holy Spirit. He knows you will then discover awesome power in prayer and spiritual service. At all costs, Satan will fight to keep you from finishing your personal journey of revival.
[1] Adapted from Returning to Holiness: A Personal and Churchwide Journey to Revival, by Gregory Frizzell

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Edwards Wednesday

Psalm 103:13

Gracious Notices

Christ is of infinite condescension. None are so low or inferior but Christ’s condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, “the poor of the world” (James 2:5).

Such as are commonly despised by their fellow creatures, Christ does not despise. “Base things of the world, and things that are despised, hath God chosen” (1 Corinthians 1:28). Christ condescends to take notice of beggars (Luke 16:22) and people of the most despised nations. In Christ Jesus is neither “Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free” (Colossians 3:11). He that is thus high condescends to take a gracious notice of little children; “suffer little children to come unto me” (Matthew 19:14).

Yea, which is more, his condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of the most unworthy, sinful creatures, those that deserve no good, and those that deserve infinite ill. Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but… great enough to become their friend, to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage.

Readings taken from Day By Day With Jonathan Edwards

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Logos Bible Software Inauguration Day Special

Today only! In recognition of the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States and the blessing of another peaceful and orderly transfer of power, Logos Bible Software is offering their American History Collection for $4.99. This collection includes:

Common Sense
The Constitution of the United States of America
The Declaration of Independence
The Federalist Papers
Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States (free update including the latest inaugural addresses coming soon!)
An Outline of the American Economy
An Outline of American Government
An Outline of American History

See their blog for more details including the coupon code and link to order.

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People Are Sheep...

The Wall Street Journal Online has posted a fascinating series of charts comparing presidential job-approval ratings. As you toggle through the charts, notice what kinds of historical events have triggered approval swings. Do you suppose campaign managers and media members with an agenda are noticing too?

Understanding the fickleness of people and their tendency to flow with the ever-shifting sands of public opinion should serve to bolster our determination to do as Paul commanded Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-4:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

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The Interview

I read the transcript of an interesting interview a few weeks ago. The religion reporter from a newspaper was asking a person in her town about his faith. What was unusual was that she didn’t just ask a couple of basic questions. She started off by asking the interviewee point blank what he believed. Like most people he answered that he was a Christian, but she wasn’t satisfied with a pat answer.

Most people accept an answer like that as a true profession of faith, but to this reporter’s credit, she didn’t. She wasn’t looking for a religious label, so she followed up by asking in-depth questions about his beliefs. She asked him about the content of his belief, to which he responded that he had a deep faith and he draws from the Christian faith. He added that he is rooted in the Christian tradition. He attempted to add credibility by claiming a historical connection. He testified that his grandfather was a Baptist and his grandmother was a Methodist and then included the fact that his mother was a deeply spiritual person.

He continued his testimony by telling the reporter that he was a member and regular attendee of the local church where he had committed himself to Christ many years before. That sparked another question from the reporter. She asked him, “Did you actually go up for an altar call?” He responded, “Yes, absolutely. It was a daytime service… and it was a powerful moment….” The reporter followed up, “So you got yourself born again?” He responded, “Yeah….”

The interview went on and he confessed to regularly engaging in prayer that he called, “An ongoing conversation with God.” He discussed the importance of maintaining his moral compass and the necessity of doing the right thing. Reading the Bible and following the guidance and teaching of his pastor were essential parts of his life. He even gave account of his faith and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Based on those excerpts, it sounds as if that man has a wonderful testimony. After all, it is filled with churchy words and Christian language. If that interview was broadcast on television, many people might think the Gospel was being preached with that testimony. But before we get too excited, we need to examine some of the other things that were said.

This was a good reporter and deserves to be credited as such. Unlike many reporters, she wasn’t satisfied with sound bites or labels. She wanted to know what this man really believed. It was as if she was opening an evangelistic dialogue when she asked, “Who is Jesus to you?” The answer was typical of our postmodern society: “Jesus is an historical figure to me…. One that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of reaching something higher.” “And he’s also a wonderful teacher.”

When probed about the prayer that he described as his ongoing conversation with God, he elucidated: “throughout the day I’m constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it…. Those are the conversations I’m having internally. I’m measuring my actions against that inner voice that for me at least is audible, is active, it tells me where I think I’m on track and where I think I’m off track.”

His garbled theology was further revealed when he discussed the content of his belief. He stated that he is suspicious of dogma and is uncomfortable with the concept of absolute truth. Instead of believing that his faith is transferable to others, he believes in tolerance. He said, “Religion at its best comes with a big dose of doubt. I’m suspicious of too much certainty….”

His belief denies that people will go to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. He skirts around the interviewer’s question about heaven by saying, “Whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning of myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.”

He did say that he believed in sin, but his definition of sin was heterodox at best. Sin to him is, “being out of alignment with my values.” And the consequence of sin is, “If I’m true to myself and my faith that is its own reward. When I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.” Most telling of all was this statement: “I believe that there are many paths to the same place and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”

Of course there is no mystery as to who the interviewee was. The interview was conducted by a Chicago Sun-Times religion reporter on March 27, 2004 as she sat down in a local coffee shop with then State Senator Barack Obama. So why do I bring that up on his Inauguration Day? Because if nothing else, it should serve as a clarion call to pray for him. We should pray for him because no matter what label he attaches to himself, if he still believes that way, he’s lost. He might call himself a Christian and speak “Churchese”. He might even throw in the name of Jesus every now and then. He can describe how he walked the aisle during an altar call and was born-again, but so can a lot of people.

The fact is, if a person believes that there are many paths to God, then that person cannot be a Christian. Because believing that there are many paths to God is in essence calling Jesus a liar. Jesus Himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me.” There is only one way. There is only one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, and if you get that wrong, you are not a Christian.
May God save the President.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

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Tuesday Mornings with Augustine

Isaiah 65:24

Unceasing Requests

He who knows what we need before we ask Him has urged us to pray by saying: “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.”

The Lord told the story of a widow who wanted justice done to her enemy. By her unceasing requests, she persuaded an evil judge to listen to her. The judge wasn’t moved because of justice or mercy, but because he was overcome by her wearisome pleas. The story encourages us that the Lord God, who is merciful and just, pays attention to our continual prayers more than when this widow won over the indifferent, unjust, and wicked judge by her unceasing requests….

The Lord gives a similar lesson in the parable of the man who had nothing to give to a traveling friend. He tried to borrow three loaves… from another friend who was already asleep. By his very urgent and insistent requests, he succeeded in waking the friend, who gave him as many loaves as he needed. But this friend was motivated by his wish to avoid further annoyances, not by generosity. Through this story, the Lord taught that those who are asleep are compelled to give to the person who disturbs them, but those who never sleep will give with much more kindness. In fact, He even rouses us from sleep so that we can ask from Him.

Readings taken from Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers

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