Indelible Grace Worship Music

Everyone who loves profound theology presented in sublime poetry set to creative new tunes can praise God for the folks at Indelible Grace Music. They are reviving many hymns that lay in the dust of history by setting them to new music (though I would also be an advocate for many of the original tunes!).

They have posted their work at The RUF Hymnbook Online Hymn Resource. I would especially recommend two hymns, "Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand" and "Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted." You can listen to clips of both by clicking on the link that reads "Demo MP3" to the right.

In our day of fluff and foam, may the Lord be pleased to bless us with substantive worship through ministries like this one!

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ

Proverbs 25:11 states that "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." John Piper and Justin Taylor have edited a volume that speaks apples of gold in a setting of silver to our culture. In the sin and misery we find ourselves in after the fall, it is all too easy for us to look to something other than God to do for us what only God can do for us. The contributors to this volume remind us that God, not sex, is to be worshiped.

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ should be required reading for every Christian. Justin Taylor introduces the volume, making plain the need for just this book and piquing our interest in the pages before us. The book then opens with two contributions from John Piper. In the first, with characteristic insight and profundity, Piper shows how sex was designed to help us know God. Piper’s essays originated as sermons given at a conference that has lent its name to the book, and the second of Piper’s essays, which I downloaded and listened to in my car, may well be the best sermon I have ever heard.

An overview of the book’s contributors and the titles of their essays will show their relevance:

  • Ben Patterson, "The Goodness of Sex and the Glory of God"
  • David Powlison, "Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken"
  • R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections
  • Mark Dever, Michael Lawrence, Matt Schmucker, and Scott Croft, "Sex and the Single Man"
  • C. J. Mahaney, "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know"
  • Carolyn McCulley, "Sex and the Single Woman"
  • Carolyn Mahaney, "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Wife Needs to Know"
  • Justin Taylor, "Martin Luther’s Reform of Marriage"
  • Mark Dever, "Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes? The Puritans on Sex"

This book can be a powerful tool for purity and joy in our day. Buy it. Read it. Distribute it.

And in the terms of Piper’s metaphor, may God be central in our lives as the sun is central in the universe, with the result that the gravitational force of the weight of his being holds everything else in its appointed orbit.

May the Lord be pleased to use this book mightily for his glory and our joy!

Seeking to Pray like Jesus and Paul: Without Ceasing

In addition to the daily pattern of reciting a liturgical prayer at regular intervals on a daily basis (see earlier post), Paul and Jesus would have engaged in "continual prayer." This does not mean that they disengaged from life, hid themselves away in a monastery, and gave every conscious thought to prayer. Rather, continual prayer means being always aware of God’s presence and ever interacting with the God before whom we live. We see Jesus doing this in the Gospels, as he addresses God in the natural course of life (e.g., Matt 11:25–26; Luke 22:17, 19; John 11:41–42; 12:27–28), and Paul explicitly commands the Thessalonians to "constantly pray" (1 Thess 5:17). What would this constant prayer have looked like in the life of a first century Jew?

There is good evidence from the rabbinic material on prayers before and after meals (David Instone-Brewer, Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament: Prayer and Agriculture, 72–91). Further, the rabbis instructed people to bless God for all things—good and bad—and to pray when entering and leaving a town (ibid., 91–92). This is certainly reminiscent of Paul’s exhortation that Christians "give thanks in everything" (1 Thess 5:18).

This rabbinic evidence indicates that First Century Jews were well equipped with a fund of memorized blessings and prayers. Paul seems to assume that Christians will also have minds that are well vested with such phrases when he instructs them to speak "to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph 5:19; cf. Col 3:16).

We have to know the Psalms in order to speak to one another in psalms. This would seem to be an apostolic mandate to know the Scriptures so that we can pray them and speak them to each other. Similarly, we have to know hymns and spiritual songs in order to speak these things to one another. Many scholars think that Paul incorporates early Christian hymns and spiritual songs into his letters at certain points (e.g., Phil 2:5–11; Col 1:15–20). Given Paul’s poetic genius, we can assume that he was the author of these and many other hymns and songs (his skill with language can be seen in texts such as Rom 8:28–39; 2 Cor 4:8–9, 16–18; 6:3–10; Phil 3:3–14; 1 Thess 5:16–22).

Let us be those who are memorizing Paul’s prayers, memorizing Psalms, memorizing the words of rich hymns like "Thy Mercy, My God," and speaking these things to God and one another. In the process of repeating these words to ourselves over and over until we have them memorized, we will find our brains not only strengthened but also transformed.

May God give us hearts that are aware of his presence, minds that overflow with praise, thanks and petition to him, and the will to stock our minds with words of truth and beauty! (Phil 4:8)

Seeking to Pray like Jesus and Paul: Daily Patterns

It is no surprise that many pastors are unsatisfied with the way they pray. I think some of this dissatisfaction is due to unrealistic (unbiblical?) expectations, and some more of it is due to a desire to be "pressing on" toward more faithfulness (Phil 3:12). When asked if we are satisfied with our prayer lives, are we going to answer as though we think we have arrived?

When we think of prayer, most of us probably think of an extended period of time before God. Jesus did pray all night on at least one occasion (Luke 6:12), but the night Jesus spent in prayer came before the day on which he chose the 12 apostles (6:13–16), an extraordinary day in Jesus’ life. What did he do on the ordinary days?

It seems that Jesus and Paul lived in a religious culture that was much more liturgical than the world most contemporary protestants inhabit. Given that Jesus was an observant Jew who was welcomed into the local synagogue, David Instone-Brewer observes that Jesus most likely prayed the 18 Benedictions three times a day (Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament: Prayer and Agriculture, 115). The rabbis of Jesus’ day instructed people to pray these 18 benedictions morning, afternoon, and evening (ibid., 52). In addition to this, the Shema was to be recited morning and evening (ibid., 42). It appears that the Shema was not limited to Deuteronomy 6:4 but consisted of Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21; and Numbers 15:37–41.

Thus, growing up faithful Jews, Jesus and Paul probably would have recited the Shema twice daily and the 18 Benedictions thrice. Instone-Brewer even argues that the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9–13) is an abstract of the 18 Benedictions. Further, he notes that the Lord’s Prayer was prayed in the early church the way the 18 benedictions were prayed in Judaism—it was used as an outline for longer prayers, it was prayed three times a day, and it was prayed standing (ibid., 55).

On the basis of these observations, one of Martin Luther’s suggestions comes to mind: "In the morning, when you rise . . . . kneeling or standing, say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. . . . In the evening, when you retire . . . . kneeling or standing, say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. . . . Then quickly lie down and sleep in peace" (Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 490–91).

This pattern of praying the Lord’s Prayer thrice daily should not take the form of a thoughtless incantation. We often recite the Lord’s Prayer that way, but Jesus explicitly warns his disciples against falling into the repetition of empty phrases (Matt 6:7–9). Perhaps it would be a good idea to think through the words of the Lord’s Prayer and put them in your own words in an effort to avoid mindless chatter. As for the Apostles’ Creed, in our postmodern age the recitation of this ancient confession strikes me as a healthy way to forge a living connection with Christians throughout the world and across the ages.

Be freed from the false guilt that you don’t spend an hour in prayer each morning. There will be times when you pray for extended periods—watch out for pride on those days! But don’t feel bad that your toddlers (or whatever your responsibilities are) keep you from getting to it every day.

May the Lord help us follow Paul as he followed Jesus (1 Cor 11:1), and may that bear fruit in our day as it did in Luther’s!

God-Centered Evangelism

Thom Rainer has recently noted that in 2003 the ratio of church members to baptisms in SBC churches was 43 to 1 (see here). Rainer puts this statistic forward to answer the question, "How many members does it take to reach one person for Christ in a year?"

I suspect that the ratio is 43 to 1 mainly because many (most?) of the 43 never share their faith. If you’re not in an SBC church, I bet the ratio is not that different where you are.

Will Metzger has provided a great remedy for this situation in his book, Tell the Truth: A Training Manual on the Message and Methods of God-Centered Witnessing.

Appendix C of this book is a Study Guide for 12 Group or Individual sessions. This means that Metzger’s book is ready made for a reading group that meets once a month (as I hope we’ll start at Baptist Church of the Redeemer on July 31). Alternatively, you could find a younger Christian and go through this book in a discipleship setting, or just read it yourself!

This ratio of 43 to 1 is not going to bring about another Great Awakening. Metzger observes, "a one-to-one approach initiated by every believer still holds the best promise of evangelizing the earth" (20).

Two more quotes to whet your appetite: "The recovery of a God/grace-centered gospel, or as James Boice has put it, a ‘rediscovery of the doctrines that shook the world,’ is imperative" (11).

"This book is about the scandal of sovereign salvation. In it, I blame God for salvation, in the sense that he is totally responsible. He organized a rescue operation within the Trinity–designing, supplying, accomplishing, and restoring those who are in peril. Our triune God is the Author and Fulfiller, the Originator and Consummator, the Creator and the Redeemer. It's all God's fault–a grace that gives response-ability to the spiritually dead" (13).

May God revive us to what Metzger argues for here: the whole Gospel to the whole person by whole people!

Poetry of Repentance and Revival

Eric Schumacher and I went to church together in Louisville while we were both students at SBTS, and he is one of the foremost theological poets of our day. Eric now pastors in Iowa, and he often writes poems that serve exceedingly well as hymns. He sets the meter so that the poetry fits many well-known hymn tunes.

Check out his latest hymn, Come Now, O Lord, Your Church Revive! May the Lord give us the ability to lament our sin, and may he answer the prayers of this poem.

Reading the Bible as an Act of Worship in Church

Every second of the Christian life is living sacrifice, and all of life is worship (Rom 12:1–2). And yet when the redeemed gather together for the corporate worship of God, our collective energies are focused on seeking a heightened experience of the presence of God and ascribing to him the glory due his name (Ps 29:2).

We do not want to try to artificially manufacture a manipulated response, but we do want to facilitate an atmosphere of reverent celebration: not presumptuous but confident (Heb 4:16), not giddy but joyful (Ps 20:5), not paralyzed with terror but fearful (Exod 20:20), not stuffy but sober (1 Tim 3:2), not depressed but repentant (2 Cor 7:10), not flippant but free (John 8:36).

In order to cultivate these emotions, we should examine everything that happens during the worship service, from the demeanor of the first person who addresses the congregation to the point when the service concludes. Here are some thoughts on how we can strive together to make the public reading of Scripture in worship more worshipful:

  1. Whoever schedules the passages to be read in the service needs to get the text to the readers by Saturday so that the people who will read the text in worship on Sunday morning will have an opportunity to read over it several times.
  2. The purpose of reading over the text several times is so that the reader can get a sense of the flow of thought in the text and pronounce it accordingly. Here's what I mean: pronounce the following sentence first by placing the stress on Jesus Christ–"JESUS CHRIST is Lord." This communicates emphasis. Now pronounce it by placing the emphasis on "is Lord"–"Jesus Christ IS LORD." This is a slightly different emphasis, and by seeking to discern the flow of thought in the text, we're trying to articulate where the emphasis lies as we read over the text. This can add meaning and depth to the reading of God's word. We might interpret the inflections in the text differently, but a reading that attempts to follow the emphases in the text will surely be more worshipful than the alternative. We don’t want to be ostentatious about this, and we certainly don’t want to draw attention to ourselves as we read. But the person who reads the Scripture publicly is, in a sense, leading the people of God in worship. He is worthy of our best efforts, of our cognitive and emotive engagement, and reading the Bible this way helps us render to him the glory due his name.
  3. Prior to the reading of the text during the worship service, when the reader stands in the pulpit, the text to be read should be announced at least twice ("The text to be read is Matthew 5:1–13, Matthew 5:1–13"). Before beginning to read the text, the reader should allow time for the congregation to find the passage.
  4. Why not incorporate a corporate response of worship immediately into the flow of the service? One way to do this is to punctuate the completion of the reading with the reader saying, "The Word of the Lord," and the congregation responding, "Thanks be to God, Amen!" The intonation of the reader’s statement ("The Word of the Lord") will correspond with the mood of the passage just read—if sobering, the words will be spoken softly; if triumphant, exultantly.

Having said all this, it is important that I balance these comments with the recognition that people have different gifts and are at different places. What I mean is that while we want to cultivate an uninterrupted flow of worship, we do not want to put so much pressure on people that they do not want to read or feel uncomfortable. Let us strive for excellence, but let us not bulldoze the people of God we seek to lead in worship.

May the Lord bless the reading and the hearing of his most holy Word.

Prayer and the Knowledge of God

“When you think about your practice of prayer and, perhaps, some of the problems you experience, do you mainly consider: what you are like as a praying Christian, or what God is like as our heavenly Father who saves us?” (19). Graeme Goldsworthy, the church’s biblical theologian, has written a beautiful little book that I hope will have as much impact as J. I. Packer’s classic Knowing God.

To whet your appetite, here’s another statement like the one quoted above: “Unfortunately, being told that Jesus got up a great while before sunrise in order to pray, or that Martin Luther, John Wesley and C. H. Spurgeon all regarded two hours a day spent in prayer as normal, does not seem to help most of us. On the contrary, it often tends to make us want to give up altogether” (11). Goldsworthy maintains that what will stir us to prayer is not our attempts to work up faith in our own hearts but rather a sustained focus on God, the beholding of whom will summon forth a response of worship and dependence. We must be God-centered rather than man-centered in our thinking about prayer.

In this book Goldsworthy combines deep theological reflections on the nature of the Trinity with acute sensitivity to the Bible’s salvation historical timeline. Anyone who can read can understand this book, which makes it a great book not only to read but to give to others, or to use in a discipleship/reading discussion group.

May the Lord enable us to know him, and may knowing him give us such confidence in him that we pray without ceasing (cf. Eph 1:17).

A Call to Reformation: Chapter 2, The Church

Much of evangelicalism seems to have a "take it or leave it" attitude to the Church. For some, regular attendance at a parachurch meeting counts as church membership. Is this a legitimate approach to being the bride of Christ? Acknowledging that believing Christians disagree on the nature of the church, I am convinced that there is a way to be and do church that is most biblical. That’s what I try to defend in this chapter, titled, "Being the Church the Biblical, Baptist Way: How and Why Baptists ‘Do Church.’" Here’s an outline of the chapter’s contents:

I. Baptist, Why Bother?

II. Church Leadership in the New Testament

A. A Plurality of Elders Who Are Equals

B. Deacons Who Serve

III. The Two Primary Baptist Distinctives

A. Believer’s Baptism by Immersion

B. Regenerate Church Membership

IV. Trying To "Do Church" Like the New Testament Churches

A. Congregationalism and Elders Who Lead

B. Church Discipline

C. Can Anybody Here Count?

D. Local Church Autonomy

V. Why Bother with the SBC?

May the Lord work in us what pleases him, that his bride might stand unblemished before him!

A Call to Reformation: Chapter 1, The Bible

The reformation we need (thanks to Mel Feldsbar for noting that this is needed across evangelicalism) will be one that returns us to the great Solas of THE Reformation (for a brief summary go here).

I am posting the first chapter of A Call to Reformation. One of the most insidious dangers in evangelicalism is the temptation to doubt the sufficiency of Scripture. The Battle for the Bible has presumably been won among evangelicals—many people now rally to the flag of inerrancy. But when we examine evangelical ministry, we find a lot of "worship services" that seem to feature a rock band and a comedian. We find a lot of "counseling ministry" that looks a lot like secular psychology done by people that happen to be Christian (see the recent shake-up at SBTS over this issue).

Among those who really believe that the Bible is the tool God uses to change lives by the power of the Spirit, the approach to ministry is substantially different.

So this first chapter is on "The Nature of the Bible and How to Study It." The title describes the content of the chapter. The first 5 pages are on the nature of the Bible as the inerrant word of God written by human beings situated in particular historical contexts and using particular literary conventions. The next 5 pages are on studying the Bible. Most of this is focused on a method called "Tracing the Argument" that I learned from Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner (who learned it from Dr. John Piper, who learned it from Dr. Daniel P. Fuller). At page 10 the diagrams begin—step by step formatting for word docs, layouts of Deuteronomy 4:32–40 and Romans 5:1–11, a chart summarizing possible "relationships between propositions," and finally step by step tracings of Deuteronomy 4:32–40 and Romans 5:1–11.

Let us unleash the mighty sword of the Word of God!

A Call to Reformation: Introduction

I have been trying to think for a while now about what is needed in the average Southern Baptist Church. I am in the process of trying to write A Call to Reformation: A Plea for Christian Teaching in Southern Baptist Churches. I am posting what I have so far in the way of an Introduction to the project. At the end there are descriptions of what I think each chapter will contain. I have the intro and the first two chapters done. More will be posted soon. . .

Putting the Bible First

Maybe you’re like me and you often find that at the end of the day you’ve read a lot of stuff but somehow neglected to read the Bible.

Here’s a suggestion: Set the homepage of your Internet Explorer to the ESV’s One Year Bible Reading Plan and don’t go anywhere else on the internet until you’ve read these passages. It looks to me like the average day’s reading is about the length of the average article from drudgereport or some such site. Let’s read the Bible before we browse to anything else, so that everything else won’t keep us from reading the Bible.

Mother’s Day Alphabet Acrostic

God designed marriage as a mini-drama of the relationship between Christ and the church. This is an important reason for those of us who are husbands to love our wives extravagantly. I am glad for this opportunity to publicly proclaim the virtues of my sweet wife in acrostic form (the first 6 and 1/2 lines begin with successive letters of the alphabet):

Always bold, calmly dynamic
Ever-flowing, grace-hysteric
Increasing joy, kindly lavish
Majestic, novel, original, practiced
Quiet resounding silent tact
Unyielding, valorous, wild xarismatik
Your zealous love for me and Jake
All the words of the alphabet take
To summarize and celebrate
Happy mother’s day from your happy mate!

Mother’s Day, 2005

Revived to What?

I often hear people speak of a desire for revival and reformation. What I don’t often hear people speak of is exactly what they want revived or reformed. So what exactly are we looking for?

My thoughts on this topic are influenced by Mark Noll’s book, The Rise of Evangelicalism, conversation with my friend Denny Burk, and an article on biblical illiteracy.

Here are some things I think we would experience if the Spirit of God were to revive us again:

1. A deep sense of the holiness and majesty of God resulting in godly sorrow for sin and a firm resolve to turn from it. In a word, repentance.

2. A hunger to know God and make him known, resulting in a desperate rush to be fed biblical truth. This would take shape in Christians reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible for themselves. It would also result in people wanting to have the Bible taught to them—at church, in home Bible studies, and maybe even in a seminary.

3. A fervent reliance upon God in all things, giving rise to ceaseless prayer. This would mark our individual lives as we constantly call upon God for help, and it would mark our corporate lives as we gather to beseech the Lord to make his name great in our midst.

4. A marked increase in new conversions. Here is a helpful summary of some research done on evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention, and here are some suggestions for improvement. It could be that another part of the explanation as to why we are not seeing more conversions and baptisms is that Christians don’t have a deep reverence for God that produces holy living (number 1 above), they don’t nourish their souls on God’s Word (number 2 above), and they don’t pray much because they don’t feel much need for God (number 3 above). Are these things being cultivated in your church? If not, why not? What is being cultivated? Isn’t the point of church knowing and worshiping God?

5. As lives change, lives change. Work takes on a sacred quality as vocational service becomes a living sacrifice of worship to God. Leisure is no longer lazy lounging with worldly entertainment. That waste of life is replaced by an urgency to redeem the time in relationship building and a zest for numbers 2 – 4 above. There is a place for entertainment, but let us insist on entertainment that is edifying. Conversations with friends would be changed as well. What do you talk about with your friends? We talk about what we like to talk about, and what we like to talk about is a reflection of what matters most to us—or should be. In Jonathan Edwards’ descriptions of the first great awakening, he notes that conversations in Northampton were theological—having to do with God. Imagine that!

6. I am by no means trying to make a list of what piety looks like, but I do think that people whose lives are marked by the things described in numbers 1 – 5 above are revived. The sum total of these things is a pursuit of personal holiness in response to being ravished by the living God. If our churches become influenced by Christians who live this way, our churches might experience reformation.

7. All of this results from God revealing himself powerfully to people such that he evokes from us a response that corresponds with who he is. If we do not see him, know him, love him, and long for more of him, none of this will happen.

May the Lord be pleased to revive our lives and reform our churches!

Blogging for Revival

Why have I joined the corps of bloggers?

As Mark Noll traces the roots of the first great awakening in The Rise of Evangelicalism he draws attention to the way that the innovative publication of what was happening around the world stimulated revival in other parts of the world.

My hope and prayer is that the blogosphere will be one more way for Christians of like mind to share ideas and learn from each other.

May the Lord Jesus Christ use this blog to further his renown, and may the things expressed here give rise to a revival of truth and a reformation of righteousness.