Pray for Someone

This morning at Oak Grove, I preached a “Mother’s Day sermon” on 2 Timothy 1:5;3:14-15. You can listen to it here if you’d like.

To set up the context of verse 5, we looked at the surrounding context as Paul begins his letter to Timothy. In verse 3 he writes,

“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”

I shared with my folks at church this morning that we should pray for one another. Paul at the end of his life not knowing if he’d ever see Timothy again tells him, I’m praying for you. I think we’d do well to tell our brothers and sisters that we love them, that we thank God for them, and that we’re praying for them (really actually praying for them). I’m not inclined to think we should dismiss thoughts of people when they come to our mind. I think those seemingly random moments when a particular person comes to mind is a great opportunity to pray for that person. The simple act of praying and shooting that person a text can be a difference maker in someone’s day. It glorifies God, reminds us of our dependence on him, and can be a huge encouragement to someone else.

There’s nothing incredibly profound or insightful here, just what I think to be a helpful reminder to pray for people and let them know you’re praying.

Acting Like a Theological Toddler – Using Ad Hominems

I said something in a sermon the other week I’m not sure I should have said, “poopy pants.” It is silly to say such a thing from the pulpit. As silly as it is, I was using it as an illustration of an ad hominem you might expect to hear from a toddler.

An ad hominem can be defined as follows:

1. appealing to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason.

2. attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument.
Toddlers and small children aren’t always the most reasonable little people, they don’t know how to argue and so when they don’t like someone or something the resort often times to name calling. As toddlers grow, they eventually become adults and often times they don’t stop the name calling.

I used this in my sermon because of what the Pharisees were doing to Jesus in John 8. Jesus had discussion with the Pharisees about who He was and who His Father was, they laid claims to Abraham as their Father and Jesus appeals to Abraham welcoming the day of Jesus, they didn’t have a theological leg to stand on when debating with Jesus. So, what did they do? Did they appeal to the Torah? Did the appeal to the prophets? No, they called Jesus names:

 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ – John 8:48-52

The Pharisees called Jesus a Samaritan and said He was demon possessed. They tried to insult Him by calling Him a Samaritan, and they tried to discredit Him by saying He was demon possessed.
I really began to think about this even more as I made my way through John 9 this past Sunday. The Pharisees have an interrogation of the man who was born blind that Jesus healed. They want him to answer who he thinks that Jesus is, and all the man can do is point to the works that Jesus had done. He can’t tell you if Jesus is a sinner or not, all he knows is that he was blind and now he sees and that only someone from God could do such a thing. This clearly isn’t the answer that the Pharisees are looking for from the man who had been healed, so how do they respond? Do they appeal to the Torah? No, they begin with the ad hominem attacks again.

And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. – John 9:28  ESV

They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. – John 9:34 ESV
They can’t prove Jesus to be a sinner, they can’t disprove the man having been born blind. So, they respond by attacking his character. They revile the man and say that he was born in sin.
As I preached through this text a couple weeks ago one of my points of application was to know what you believe and to know why you believe it. We need to be able to articulate what we believe when discuss theological issues. If we find ourselves unsure, we just need to go back to the Scriptures again and evaluate. We need to ask ourselves, “is this what the Bible teaches? Is that what this passage is really saying?” None of us have arrived to a full understanding of the faith delivered once for all to the saints, we can be wrong. However, far too often what I see when people get into theological discussions, rather than dealing honestly with the text of the Bible when they get to a place of disagreement they call the other person, camp, group a name. Calling someone a theological moron isn’t going to win any debate, and more importantly it isn’t going to win any hearts. We far too often get into theological mudslinging rather than honest discussion of the text or the issue at hand. It is okay to have disagreements and to have discussions. In fact, I think we should have discussion on points of theology and practice. But as we do so, let’s do so in a way that is charitable and honoring to Jesus and honoring to those we disagree with.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV

What is Wisdom?

I’ve begun this journey working through the “wisdom books” of the Bible this year and I think one thing that needs to be answered right from the beginning is the question of, “what is wisdom?”

The book begins with a call to wisdom:

To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
– Proverbs 1:2-6

Wisdom is clearly important to the writer of Proverbs and it is stressed that it should be important to the readers. Longman writes, “Wisdom is a rich concept and is not easily summarized.” He’s absolutely right, as you read across the book of Proverbs wisdom is personified, it is attributed to many different kinds of people as well as animals, wisdom seems to extend to as many subjects as one can find. One’s first implication might be that wisdom is intelligence, but mere intelligence doesn’t always merit wisdom. For the author of Proverbs, wisdom is knowledge applied and knowledge lived. One doesn’t need lots of intelligence to be wise. If it is the ant planning for winter, or the young man staying away from the promiscuous women, to be wise one needs to apply what one knows to make right decisions and right actions. Again, I find Longman helpful in defining wisdom:

…we will begin with the basic idea that wisdom is the skill of living. It is a practical knowledge that helps one know how to act and how to speak in different situations. Wisdom entails the ability to avoid problems, and the skill to handle them when they present themselves. Wisdom also includes the ability to interpret other people’s speech and writing in order to react correctly to what they are saying to us.

If Longman has a right understand of what the author of Proverbs is trying to teach his readers, we’d be wise to heed the wisdom of Proverbs (and Ecclesiastes and Job). Wisdom is for living, and I’m thankful God has revealed wisdom through the word written and the Word incarnate. In days to come I hope to expound a bit on some of the types of wisdom that are revealed in Proverbs.

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. – Proverbs 4:2-7


Wisdom For Living – Reading Proverbs

As I’ve begun this journey through reading the wisdom books I decided to take advantage of a book that was part of the Logos Free Book of the Month program. The book is “How To Read Proverbs” by Tremper Longman. I’m not very far into the book but I thought some words from the introduction were worth sharing. I believe it was Johnny Hunt who called the Epistle of James “Shoe leather Christianity,” and if that is true of James in the New Testament it is certainly true of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Proverbs is an incredibly practical and “straight shooting” book of the Bible. It is a book full of wisdom that is to be practiced for living.

Longman begins his work on Proverbs:

Life isn’t easy. We may enjoy temporary rest from the battle, but no one is completely immune to the complexities of circumstances and relationships. These problems range from minor annoyances such as getting called to jury duty at an inconvenient moment, to major disasters such as a serious illness or a significant rupture in an intimate relationship. Sometimes we wake up in the morning and see the day as a series of obstacles to be avoided. We would love to be able to navigate life in a way that minimized the problems.

The Bible never suggests that the life of a follower of God will be devoid of problems. If anything, it says exactly the opposite. Life has its joys, but, according to 2 Corinthians 1:5 (“You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ”), even the joys are in the context of suffering. Unalloyed joy will come only in heaven. On this earth, we will have problems.

How do we handle life’s problems? How do we deal with difficult people or uncomfortable situations? What do we say and how do we act? How do we express our emotions? The Bible has a word to describe the person who navigates life well; that word is “wise.” A wise person lives life with boldness in spite of the inevitable difficulties.

We need wisdom in this life to handle its various situations. I’m thankful that the Lord has graciously given us these books we call “wisdom books.” Our God is a gracious God who hasn’t left us in the dark on matters of life now or eternal. If we lack wisdom, let us read and let us ask.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:5-8 ESV

A Year of Wisdom – 2017 in the Wisdom Books

At the start of the new year many folks plan and make resolutions. For many Christians the new year is a time to start over with their Bible reading. For some it becomes and honest effort to actually read through the Bible when they stopped the year before. For others they’ll read through the pages of scripture in their entirety for another time. I’ve always encouraged Bible reading through the Bible. In the past I’ve read through the Bible cover to cover and it is certainly a very worthy endeavor. However, I always feel rushed when I attempt to do a reading plan. It’s difficult to not want to slow down and stick with a book or particular passage. This year I’ve seen several folks talk about how they intend to spend some specific time studying particular books rather than trying to read through the entire Bible in the year with a reading plan. I’ve decided to spend sometime in the wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. These are all books that I’ve read before, but I’ve not spent much time studying.

Their worth in study is reflected in the opening words of Proverbs:

To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.

– Proverbs 1:2-6 ESV

There’s great wisdom to be found in the pages of all of Scripture and ultimately the wisdom of God is found in Christ Jesus as the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 ESV

As such I believe in many ways that Proverbs isn’t just a collection of ancient Jewish sayings that might find their way into fortune cookies, rather it is a book about Christ. As are the books of Ecclesiastes and the book of Job. These books are books that deal with seemingly every area of life. They speak of joy and sorrow, life and death, pain and pleasure. I begin my journey in Proverbs and intend (Lord willing) to blog a bit in my journey through these books. I pray I’m a little wiser at the end and able to share a little bit of the wisdom found with all of you. Soli Deo Gloria.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

P.S. I’ll also be sharing on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #AYearOfWisdom if you care to join in on social media.

Christianity is a Bloody Religion: A Gospel Cordial from R. Kent Hughes

Christianity is a bloody religion—the blood of Christ cleanses us of all sin! This must be primary in our witness and thinking! Yes, Christ came to give abundant life. Yes, Christ worked miracles, and he can work miracles in our lives today. But these are the benefits of the gospel, not the gospel itself. The gospel centers upon Christ as the sin bearer—“the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Most of us understand what John is saying. However, our salvation does not depend on our formulation of the doctrine of the atonement, but on our experience of it! Is he our Lamb? Do we really believe he died for us? If we keep the wonder of the Atonement before us, we will be different people!

-R. Kent Hughes, from John: That You May Believe

Set Your Heart to Study the Bible

“You may find all sorts of things offered to you as more relevant ways to pursue the growth of the church. These programs and strategies may even be offered to you from people teaching at the seminary, in classes taught at the seminary. Set your heart to study the Bible, do the Bible, and teach the Bible. No method, program, or initiative–not even a Great Commission Resurgence–can be more effective than the power of the living and active Word of God. Listen to Psalm 119:118: “You reject all who stray from your statutes, for their deceit is a lie.”

Set your heart to learn the Scriptures. Do not settle for anything else. Do not get distracted from the Scriptures with nifty tricks or culturally savvy insights. People need Jesus. Jesus is revealed in the Bible. The Spirit uses the Bible to open eyes to see Christ. God the Father has been pleased to give us a book, words inked on pages, written by humans inspired by the Spirit. Do not get so lost in books written by the uninspired that you cannot find your way to the Bible.”

– James Hamilton from, Christ-Centered Exposition: Ezra-Nehemiah.

Loathing Prayer

Scripture calls us to pray all the time. We all know this. We all know we should pray, but we don’t always pray. If we are honest with ourselves we don’t always want to pray. We cannot always focus in prayer. There are times when we just do not want to pray, it is the last thing we would want to do. Most of us probably wouldn’t admit this. John Bunyan, however, was willing to admit this. I came across this quote while I was preparing last week to teach on the Holy Spirit’s ministry of intercession and supplication. I think we’d all do well to share in Bunyan’s honesty and reliance on the Holy Spirit in those times where we loathe prayer.

May I but speak my own experience, and from that tell you the difficulty to praying to God as I ought; it is enough to make you poor, blind, carnal men, to entertain strange thoughts of me, for, as my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so loathe to go to God, and when it is with him, so loathe to stay with him, that many times I am force in my prayers; first to beg God that he would take mine heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there (Psalm 86:11). Nay, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray I am so ignorant; only (blessed be Grace) that the Spirit helps our infirmities [Romans 8:26].

Oh the starting-holes that the heart hath in time of prayer! None knows how many by-ways the heart hath, and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God. How much pride also, if enabled with expressions. How much hypocrisy, if before others? And how little conscience is there made of prayer between God and the soul in secret, unless there Spirit of supplication [Zech. 12:10] be there to help. – as quoted in, A Puritan Theology by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones. p. 426.

May we pray with Bunyan for the Lord to constantly set our affections and set it on himself in Christ, and once our hearts rest there that He might keep our hearts there. May we pray with the disciples, “teach us how to pray.”

Some Thoughts on Congregational Singing

I’ve been in pastoral ministry now for right at two years and I often reflect that time. I get asked lots of questions from friends who are in the ministry and friends who are training for the ministry and that too often has my reflecting on my time serving at Cheerful Hope. I most often get asked about preaching. I preached my first sermon when I was 14. When I think of ministry I think of the ministry of the preached word. When I was a candidate for the pastorate I thought about preaching, I was questioned about preaching, I had to preach a trial sermon. The word is central and has primacy in worship. We read the word as a call to worship on Sunday mornings and I preach verse by verse through a passage of scripture. But that isn’t the only place the word of God shows up in Lord’s Day worship. It also shows up in our singing. 

I felt the call to gospel ministry when I was a teenager and knew I was supposed to preach. I didn’t know where and to what capacity I was to preach, but I knew that was what I was supposed to do. The Lord granted me the occasion and affirmation to preach. But, one area I wouldn’t have ever seen myself was in the position of leading people in congregational singing. Yet, when I was at the College at Southeastern I was involved in a church plant and when the gentleman who was leading us in song left the church I fell under the conviction (along with another friend of mine) that we should learn to play guitar. I never really took of with guitar. I learned three chords (which is about all you need for a lot of church music) and one, maybe two songs. I also bought a djembe and loved playing it even if I lack rhythm one really needs. I always piddled a little bit with guitar and learned a couple chords here or there. I played one song once at another church and played djembe and sang some. But I never really used it until I found myself at Fruitland Baptist Bible College and a member of Christ Covenant Community Church. When our congregational leader wasn’t going to be there one Sunday I volunteered to lead. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with leading, singing, or playing. But the Lord and people who understood the purpose of singing were gracious.

I look back and see this as an act of providence preparing me for where I am now at Cheerful Hope. I find myself now leading our congregational singing every week. I’m certainly not the best guitarist or vocalist. I don’t have very good timing. But what I do have is: a biblical mandate for worship and how it is supposed to be conducted, a myriad of good biblical music, and a wonderful group of folks who are willing to sing. (I’d also add a great group of people who have been willing to learn.) 

When I think of congregational singing I think of the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 

This text has shaped what I’ve tried to do in congregational singing. First off, the music we sing needs to be the word of Christ. Music that is biblical is honoring to God. Man-centered songs with bad theology (even subtle bad theology) teach us to be man-centered and heretical.

Music teaches. I don’t remember all the sermons I’ve heard in the 25 years I’ve been to church. They have certainly made an impact in my life for which I am grateful. But, even after not singing the hymns of my childhood until I heard them 10 years later in chapel at Southeastern, I remembered them. Music teaches, it sticks to us, and if it teaches and it sticks to us it needs to teach us well. As we sing we need to sing music that is sound doctrinally. We also should sing the scriptures themselves. I love singing from the Psalter, though I don’t have much experience doing so. 

Music teaches and admonishes, but who does the teaching and admonishing according to the text? Each other. When we sing we are confessing corporately and teaching each other the things that we sing. When I sing, “Jesus paid it all,” I’m admonishing everyone else in the room with the doctrines or justification and propitiation. Isn’t that beautiful? It is also dangerous, if we aren’t singing sound music, we’re admonishing one another with falsehood. Or if we are singing man-centered music we’re admonishing one another to be man-centered. That’s why it is important what we sing. 

It is also important how we sing. I’m willing to sound like the old man with ear plugs in his ears at the back of a sanctuary at a concert for a moment. To admonish one another and to teach one another we must be able to hear one another. I’ve been to events where we are as a congregation singing, yet even singing at the top of my lungs I couldn’t hear myself. I can’t admonish or teach my brother if my brother can’t hear me. We must use the instruments of worship that we use as instruments not objects of worship. Not only must our instruments not drown our voices, our voices must be loud enough to teach and admonish. I encourage everyone at church to sing loud. I’m persuaded that the best instruments we have in congregational worship are the ones God gave us. We need to hear one another as we sing corporately, it is corporate singing after all. 

I’ve also learned to play a lot of different songs in the past two years. I’ve not mastered playing them, but I’ve learned them. The folks at church have also learned them. Paul doesn’t prescribe one type of song alone. We sing a lot of different hymns at church, some in the old Broadman hymnal, and some that aren’t. We sing hymns written 700 years ago and hymns that have been written in the last 10 years. We sing Issac Watts and we sing Chris Tomlin. We sing Charles Wesley and we sing Charlie Hall.

We sing, and we sing together. That’s what I’ve learned about congregational singing. We sing as Paul says, with thankfulness in our hearts to God. Our singing and your singing should be songs of thanksgiving, they should be songs of praise, they should be songs that are sound, they should be songs of admonition, songs of teaching, songs of the Father, songs of the Son, and songs of the Spring. They should be songs that are sung and sung together for the edification of the saints and the glory of God. If we’re missing either of those things we need evaluate how and why we do the things that we do. 

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”