27 May, 2010

We Are Not Professionals, But Care Takers of Souls

Professionalism is dangerous in the ministry. Those of us who have been entrusted with the care of souls need to think of ourselves, not as professionals with degrees on the wall, but as shepherds and care-takers. We have been entrusted with God's people, yet some shepherds destroy God's vineyard- the Church.

The Prophet Jeremiah spoke to this in chapter 12 of his book, "Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me... They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns; they have tired themselves out but profit nothing. They shall be ashamed of their harvests because of the fierce anger of the Lord.

I was reminded of this twice this week.

The first instance was that I heard about a wedding this past weekend where the pianist told the pastor that she really enjoyed the sermon. During the discussion it came out that the pianist was estranged from the church and said that during her catechism class as a teen she had a lot of questions. Eventually her pastor told her that she was not allowed to ask questions anymore. When the pastor at the wedding heard this, he said, "You can ask me any questions that you want, whenever you have them." The young lady began to weep.

The harm done to her soul at the hands of a merely professional minister was great.

The other instance was while re-reading a short story by John Updike called "Pigeon Feathers". In this short story the main character, David, was questioning how he can know that he will continue to exist after he is dead. The pastor in this story gave a typical liberal "soul sleep" answer which was not satisfactory to David. The conversation went back and forth with David not being satisfied with the pastor's unbiblical answers. The pastor got angry with David and did not want to further engage with this conversation.

David felt shame and the lines of communication between the pastor and David were now closed. Mere professionalism harmed his soul.

Updike responds to this event marvelously. He writes, "In the minister's silence the shame that should have been his crept over David: the burden and fever of being a fraud was placed upon him, who was innocent, and it seemed, he knew, a confession of this guilt that on the way out he was unable to face [his pastor's] stirring gaze, though he felt it probing the side of his head." John Updike, Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories, 134.

Brothers, those of us who labor in the ministry of the Word need to keep our own hearts in check. We are not professionals who have the privilege of clocking out at the end of our shift. We have been called to labor and care for the people of God. And sometimes that takes some extra time. Sometimes that takes some extra patience. Sometimes that takes some extra grace.

Plead with the Lord Jesus Christ that he would renew your commitment to ministering to his Church. Ask for the grace to be a shepherd to the flock for which Christ spilled his blood. Christ was not a professional. Neither are we. The ministry is about souls.

23 May, 2010

Vanity of Vanity Says the Oxford English Dictionary

As the Los Angeles RP Church begins a new series on The Book of Ecclesiastes it would be most profitable to spend some time in meditation on the word vanity. Below are six aspects of the definition of vanity along with their etymological entries from the OED. Meditating on these various aspects of the word will help you to better understand the preacher as he cries out time and time again, "Vanity of vanities". May the Lord enrich your meditations and aid you in living a life of fruitfulness in Him.

1. a. That which is vain, futile, or worthless; that which is of no value or profit.
c1230 Hali Meid. 27 Hare confort & hare delit, hwerin is hit al meast, bute i flesches fule oer in weorldes uanite..? 13.. E.E. Allit. P. C. 331 ose vnwyse ledes at affyen hym in vanyte & in vayne ynges. c1340 HAMPOLE Pr. Consc. 1619 us es e world, and e lyfe are-in, Ful of vanyte and of syn. 1387 TREVISA Higden (Rolls) III. 431 onkinge of enemyes is but vanite. c1450 LOVELICH Grail xliii. 316 Whanne alle this haddist ou seyn,..vpe thou ryse, and bethowhtest the Whethir it were soth oer vanite. c1480 HENRYSON Abbey Walk 51 (Bann.), Thy power and thy warldis pelf Is nocht bot verry vanitie. 1500-20 DUNBAR Poems xlvi. 98 This frustir luve all is bot vanite. 1611 BIBLE Ps. xxxix. 5 Euery man at his best state is altogether vanitie. 1691 RAY Creation I. (1704) 76 We see nothing in the Heavens which argues Chance, Vanity or Error. 1834 MATHEW Serm. ii. 44 Yet you often..are disposed to own that all in this world is vanity.
b. Vain and unprofitable conduct or employment of time.
1303 R. BRUNNE Handl. Synne 3346 Forsoe hyt seme weyl to be Al here lyfe yn vanyte. c1340 HAMPOLE Pr. Consc. 7228 ai..swa mysturned here air lyfyng In-tylle vanyte and flesschly lykyng. c1374 CHAUCER Troylus IV. 729 But efter al this nyce vanite, They took hire leve, and hom they wente alle. c1430 LYDG. Min. Poems (Percy Soc.) 219 Lat reson brydle thy sensualite,..Ageyn al worldly disordinat vanyte. 1514 BARCLAY Cyt. & Uplondyshman (Percy Soc.) 5 Men labour sorer in fruyteles vanyte, Than in fayre warkes of grete utylyte. 1567 Gude & Godlie B. (S.T.S.) 73, I pray the, Lord,..All vanitie and lieand word, Full far away thow put fra me. 1607 MELTON Sixe-folde Politician (Arb.) 114 As the enterludes may be tearmed the Schoole-houses of vanitie and wantonnes. 1612 Two Noble K. II. ii. 109 All those pleasures That wooe the wils of men to vanity. 1751 Transl. & Paraph. Sc. Ch. xxvii. 102 In Vanity ye waste your Days.
c. in vanity, in vain. Obs.1
1509 HAWES Conv. Swearers 23 Ye dare not take their names in vanyte.

2. a. The quality of being vain or worthless; the futility or worthlessness of something.
c1325 Prose Psalter li. 7 He was michel wor in his vanite. a1340 HAMPOLE Psalter xi. 1 A haly man at sees e vanyte of e warld mutiplid. 1382 WYCLIF Eph. iv. 17 That e walke not now, as and hethen men walken, in the vanyte of her witt. c1400 Destr. Troy 7121 Thus curstly at knight~hode..Voidet ere victory for vanite of speche. 1451 J. CAPGRAVE Life St. Aug. 9 In all is vanyte of his lif he happed to fynde a book at Tullius Cicero mad. 1535 COVERDALE Ecclus. xvii. 31 He hath pleasure in the vanyte of wickednes. 1662 J. DAVIES tr. Olearius' Voy. Ambass. 31 A fabulous story, whereof the vanity is so much the more visible. 1674 Essex Papers (Camden) I. 200 This [rumour] alarmed me so much that I had little rest till Trear. spoke with King, who assured him of the vanity of it. 1711 ADDISON Spect. No. 159 2, I fell into a profound Contemplation on the Vanity of human Life. 1741 C. MIDDLETON Cicero II. viii. 216 The vanity of expecting any lasting glory. 1823 SCOTT Quentin D. xxxiv, The Bohemian had gone where the vanity of his dreadful creed was to be put to the final issue. 1834 Tait's Mag. I. 699/1 The noble Lord might have anticipated the vanity of his exertions. 1864 PUSEY Lect. Daniel (1876) 274 The vanity of the resistance of the kings of Judah.
b. The quality of being foolish or of holding erroneous opinions. Obs.
c1386 CHAUCER Miller's T. 649 Of his vanytee He hadde yboght hym knedying tubbes thre. Clerk's T. 194 Wol nat oure lord yet leue his vanytee? Wol he nat wedde? 1578 TIMME Calvin on Gen. 26 Whereby their vanitie is overthrowen which think that the world was a matter alwayes without forme. 1596 DALRYMPLE tr. Leslie's Hist. Scot. II. 46/10 That..[they] mycht now se thair awne daftnes, and lach or greit at thair awne vanitie. 1660 in Extr. St. P. rel. Friends Ser. II. (1911) 123 Your petitioner is in great dread and horrour of an oath (though hee detests the vanity of Quakers and such like giddy people).

3. a. The quality of being personally vain; high opinion of oneself; self-conceit and desire for admiration.
a1340 HAMPOLE Psalter xv. 4 Synn and vnclennes at ai ere in at folous aire flesch and e vanyte of aire blode. 1390 GOWER Conf. III. 166 That whil he stod in that noblesse, He scholde his vanite represse With suche wordes as he herde. a1400-50 Alexander 1730 Be vanyte & vayne glori at in i wayns kindlis. Ibid. 1784 All i vanyte to voide & i vayne pride. c1430 LYDG. Minor Poems (Percy Soc.) 65 Yowre blynde fantesies now in hertis weyve Of childisshe vanyte, and lete hem over slyde. 1596 SPENSER St. Ireland Wks. (Globe) 627/1 They..through their owne vanitye..doe therupon build..historyes of theyr owne antiquitye. 1613 SHAKES. Hen. VIII, I. i. 85 What did this vanity But minister communication of A most poore issue? 1649 MILTON Eikon. B, The intention of this discourse was not fond ambition or the vanity to get a Name. 1705 STANHOPE Paraphr. I. 310 The vanity of wicked Men is scarcely more conspicuous than in the fond Imaginations they flatter themselves with. 1783 W. THOMSON Watson's Philip III (1839) 77 She cannot be vindicated from the imputation of female vanity, and the love of admiration on account of her exterior accomplishments. 1829 LYTTON Devereux I. i, His vanity was so mingled with good nature that it became graceful. 1881 M. E. HERBERT Edith 7 To the young wife's vanity and to Mr. Gordon's pride in his choice.
b. With a and pl.: An instance of this; an occasion for being vain.
1712-4 POPE Rape Lock I. 52 Think not, when Woman's transient breath is fled, That all her vanities at once are dead. 1761 HUME Hist. Eng. II. xxxi. 203 The nobility and gentry..who placed a vanity in these institutions. 1770 FOOTE Lame Lover 1 Wks. 1799 II. 57 To derive a vanity from a misfortune, will not I'm afraid be admitted as a vast instance of wisdom.
c. A thing of which one is vain; also slang, one's favourite liquor.
1854 PATMORE Angel in Ho. I. II. ix, She was my vanity, and oh All other vanities how vain! 1891 C. JAMES Rom. Rigmarole 114 It is advisable to wash it down with a long drink of the reader's particular vanity.

4. a. A vain, idle, or worthless thing; a thing or action of no value.
a1300 Cursor M. 53 at foly luue, at uanite, am likes now nan oer gle. c1340 HAMPOLE Prose Tr. 5, I satt by mine ane fleeande e vanytes of e worlde. c1450 Mankind 896 (Brandl), Thynke & remembyr, e world ys but a wanite. 1470-85 MALORY Arthur XXI. ix. 855, I had forsaken the vanytees of the world. 1535 COVERDALE 2 Kings xvii. 15 They despysed his ordinaunces..and walked in their awne vanities. 1545 BRINKLOW Compl. (1874) 83 Ye shuld turne from these vanitees vnto the liuinge God. 1633 in Verney Mem. (1907) I. 76 To run on in their sinful vanities. 1658 Ibid. II. 71 All I find as shee desires it for, is but to spend it uppon her vanities. 1673 CAVE Prim. Chr. II. ii. 33 The sights and sports of the Theatre and such like vanities. 1822 LAMB Elia I. Praise Chimney-Sweepers. A convenient spot..at the north side of the fair, not so far distant as to be impervious to the agreeable hubbub of that vanity. 1848 THACKERAY Van. Fair xli, As long as we have a man's body, we play our Vanities upon it, surrounding it with humbug and ceremonies.
b. An idle tale or matter; an idea or statement of a worthless or unfounded nature. Obs.
1340 Ayenb. 77 Holy wryt, et hise clepe leazinges..and metinges and uanites. c1340 HAMPOLE Pr. Consc. 184 Many has lykyng trofels to here, And vanites wille blethly lere. c1440 Jacob's Well 166 Whanne ou iangelyst in cherch, or thynkest vanytees. 1500-20 DUNBAR Poems ix. 108, I knaw me..culpable..In wordis vyle, in vaneteis expreming. 1560 J. DAUS tr. Sleidane's Comm. 205 The Frenche men were thought to be authors and forgers of this vanitie. 1582 N. LICHEFIELD tr. Castanheda's Conq. E. Ind. 37 They be great southsayers, they haue good dayes and bad dayes,..they doe easily beleeue whatsoeuer vanitie. 1652 HEYLYN Cosmogr. I. 211 Turpin hath..interlaced his Storie with a number of ridiculous vanities. 1660 F. BROOKE tr. Le Blanc's Trav. 391 His Poem the Auracana..begins with this vanity, truely poetical and Romantick Spaniard-like. 1894 ‘MARK TWAIN’ in Century Mag. June 236/1 The claim that the knife had been stolen was a vanity and a fraud.

5. Emptiness, lightness; the state of being void or empty; inanity. Obs. rare.
a1400 Stockholm Med. MS. 127 A good oynement for e vanyte of e heed. a1400-50 Alexander 4774 It was bot vacant & voide, as vanite it were. 1587 LEVINS Pathw. Health (1632) 6 For the Vanity of the head Take the iuice of wall-wort,..and therewith annoint the temples.

8. a. Vanity Fair (after quot. 1678 below), a place or scene where all is frivolity and empty show; the world or a section of it as a scene of idle amusement and unsubstantial display.
[1678 BUNYAN Pilgr. (1900) 82 The name of that Town is Vanity; and at the town there is a Fair kept, called Vanity-Fair. It..beareth the name of Vanity-Fair, because the Town where 'tis kept is lighter than Vanity.]
1816 J. SCOTT Vis. Paris (ed. 5) 137 Such is the Palais Royal;a vanity faira mart of sin and seduction! 1827 SCOTT Chron. Canongate iii, Carrying so many bonny lasses to barter modesty for conceit and levity at the metropolitan Vanity Fair. 1857 TROLLOPE Barchester T. III. 110 But how preach..at all in such a vanity fair as this now going on at Ullathorne? 1861 THACKERAY Four Georges 72 Never was such a brilliant, jigging, smirking Vanity Fair as that through which he leads us.
attrib. 1848 THACKERAY Van. Fair xxv, The last scene of her dismal Vanity Fair comedy was fast approaching. Ibid. xli, Assuming that any Vanity Fair feelings subsist in the sphere whither we are bound.
b. Hence Vanity-Fairian. nonce-wd.
1848 THACKERAY Van. Fair xvii, Even with the most selfish disposition, the Vanity Fairian..can't but feel some sympathies and regret.

19 May, 2010

The Second Commandment And Draw Mohamed Day

The second commandment prohibits making any images of God in any of his Trinitarian nature. This means that pictures of God the Father are prohibited. Pictures of God the Holy Spirit are prohibited. Pictures of God the Son are prohibited.

The Westminster Larger Catechism asks in Question 109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

Answer: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature: Whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense: Whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God has appointed.

With all that said, Christians have placed too low a value on the image of Jesus Christ. We (we being the Church of Christ as a whole) have everything from stained glass images to pictures in our dining rooms to kids' books filled with cartoon Jesus pictures. This does not honor God and it is not the way in which he wants to be represented.

Considering the low value that Christians have on the second commandment and the image of Christ, there is something commendable about the fact that Islam is so protective of the image of their (false) prophet. But at the same time, the extremism leads to stupidity and violence- not to peace with God as the Scriptures point us.

The 20th of May is being called 'Draw Mohamed Day'. I will not be participating, of course, but I do wonder if the Christian Church took Jesus Christ more seriously if we would have a bigger influence on our world. For the good of course; not for Jihad.

Do you value the image of Christ enough to not portray it in any medium including the medium of your mind?

16 May, 2010

When Preachers Know They are Being Used of God

Preachers have a number of different experiences in the pulpit. Sometimes they feel as though they are receiving no help from the Spirit of God in the pulpit- only to learn that their sermon ministered to someone heartily.

Other times they feel as though a sermon went very well- only to never hear about it again.

Of course these are both 'feelings', and and we do not judge God's use of His Word preached upon OUR feelings- we will never know the full scope of our preaching ministry until we are in glory with Christ.

But there is an experience, a feeling, if you will, in the pulpit that many of us have experienced and long to continue experiencing. R. Kent Hughes explains this experience like this:

"There are times when I am preaching that I have especially sensed the pleasure of God. I usually become aware of it through the unnatural silence. The ever-present coughing ceases, and the pews stop creaking, bringing an almost physical quiet to the sanctuary- through which my words sail like arrows. I experience a heightened eloquence, so that the cadence and volume of my voice intensify the truth that I am preaching.

There is nothing quite like it- the Holy Spirit filling one's sails, the sense of His pleasure, and the awareness that something is happening among one's hearers."

May God silence our pews.
May God stop the frequent restroom breaks.
May he silence the sighs.

May the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ fill His preachers with an intensity of power from on high that His Church is reformed, transformed, revived, and restored.

May the Spirit of God visit His preachers with his smiles and pleasures. May his fill our sails and send our words out like piercing arrows!

May His preachers bow in humble submission.
May His preachers hear.
May His people hear.

10 May, 2010

Introvert Preachers are Great! Or Introvert Preachers are Great?

Marvin Olasky recently interviewed Tim Keller for the May 8, 2010 edition of World Magazine. The title of the article is "A Wave Came In: How an Introvert Like Tim Keller Became a Great Preacher". I have never been an introvert or a great preacher, but I know that Tim Keller has a lot to teach us young preachers.

You can listen to the full interview here.

You can read what was printed in World here.

08 May, 2010

Of Farmers and Urbanites

Luke 23: 26 records "One Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country..."

Many commentators talk about how Simon was a farmer who in town on business. How do they know that Simon was a farmer? Well, of course! It is because the text says that he came in from the country- what other reason would he have been out there?

As scholars, pastors, and teachers of the Word of God we need to be careful in our reading of the Scriptures. We must not want to read into the Scriptures our own particular views of the world, of life, and of the way things should be. I am an urban pastor which makes me question what in the world Simon was doing out in the country. That does not mean that he was a farmer though! Maybe he was an urbanite who just happened to be coming back into the city.

We need to be careful pastors, teachers, and scholars. We need to be careful that we are not reading our ideas into the text, but instead should be reading out of the text.

Here is how William Hendriksen handles these commentators that want to put Simon in overalls and a straw hat, "The further speculation that the man must have been a farmer, because on this particular Friday morning he came from the country, is... without any basis. Even today many people besides farmers have business or social connections in the country. Some even live there!" NTC, Luke, 1023.

Some live in the country- that does not make them all farmers. Friends, watch your reading of the text. Be careful as you work with God's Word. They're not all farmers.

Diligence in Scripture Reading

Today at the men's prayer breakfast Elder Hector Pino led us in a devotion in which he challenged us as men, husbands, and/or fathers to consider the role of the Scriptures in our own lives. He challenged us to consider the level commitment that we have to the Word of God as Christian men.

As Reformed Presbyterians our fifth vow when joining the Church is that, "To the end that you may grow in the Christian life, do you promise that you will diligently read the Bible, engage in private prayer, keep the Lord’s Day, regularly attend the worship services, observe the appointed sacraments, and give to the Lord’s work as He shall prosper you?"

Diligently read our Bibles our vow says. We all struggle here, don't we? We all ebb and flow in the due diligence that the Word of God deserves in our lives. How can we improve in our Scripture reading and meditation on God's Word? Elder Pino gave us seven ways. These can be found complete with exposition in JC Ryle's Practical Religion:

1) Read the Bible with an earnest desire to understand it.

2) Read the Scriptures with a simple, childlike faith and humility.

3) Read the Word with a spirit of obedience and self-application.

4) Read the Holy Scriptures everyday.

5) Read the whole Bible and read it an orderly way.

6) Read the Word of God fairly and honestly.

7) Read the Bible with Christ constantly in view.

04 May, 2010

Fig Leaf Evangelists and Bloody Skin Evangelists

Since the time that Adam fashioned clothing out of a fig leaf, man has been doing all that is within his power to be made right with God. Man has disregarded certain theological and biblical truths that the Scriptures set forth, and as a result man has elevated pragmatism over theological accuracy and truth.

This pragmatic free-will-ism has never been more problematic than in American evangelicalism. Many evangelists have pushed the envelope of the means by which their message is delivered. The famous Pelagian evangelist, Charles Finney was known for doing all that was in his power to cause an emotional response from his hearers. Sometimes this included manipulation. But in the mind of the free-will evangelist, the ends justify the means.

Over the past several months evidence has arisen that the president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary has been lying in order to minister to Muslims. The truth of his conversion, early life, and many other matters have been twisted and lied about in the name of reaching Muslims. And when the Seminary Board was confronted on these lies, do you know what their response was?

"Dr Caner has not done anything theologically inappropriate."

In this version of Christianity, the ends justify the means. You can read the latest article on this story here. It is a sad day when seminary presidents are allowed to get away with blatant deception because of pragmatic reasoning.

Friends, the Gospel of Christ is not something that we have to improve. We do not need to improve it with fancy testimonies, with emotional manipulation, or with other pragmatic means. We need to preach the Gospel as it is found within the Scriptures and know that the Spirit goes where He will. Brothers and sisters, God is big enough to call men to himself. He did it with Adam when he removed his man-centered fig leaves and replaced them with divinely appointed skins. Our God is big enough, and his will powerful enough where he does not need manipulative and lying preachers to accomplish his desires.

God desires faithful preachers; not fabricating preachers. Friends, pray for Liberty. Pray that they call their president to repentance and see the beauty of biblically Reformed Christianity.

01 May, 2010

The Gospel According to Marcel Duchamp

In 1917 the French artist Marcel Duchamp attempted to display a piece of art that he created under the psedonymn, R. Mutt. The title of the piece was "Fountain" and it was nothing more than a discarded urinal placed on it's side. What does this piece of ceramic trash have to do with the Gospel?

Well, in declaring this art- society found wisdom. People began to think about what it meant and how this piece was to be interpreted. Critics talked about how displaying it upside down actually made it take on new character.

That which was something for urine had turned into something that appeared in a way- like the Buddha, or the Madonna, or a shrine of some sort. People talked about how a urinal that was designed for men took on a sensual aesthetic in the way in which it was displayed. By displaying it this way it became phallic. A man's urinal now seen vaginally and sensually. They raved about it and a whole new wave of conceptual art was born thanks to Marcel Duchamp.

This piece also has been awarded an international award for the most important piece of artwork in the 20th century. Friends, we see clearly that the emperor has no clothes; but the world does not see it. We see that all of the perceived wisdom that goes into interpreting this piece (as well as much of modern and postmodern art) is nothing more than babbling and foolishness.

The wisdom of this world. It is foolishness.

Paul said to the Corinthian believers (I Cor. 3:9) that the wisdom of this world was folly to God- foolishness! The Apostle Paul also talks about another type of wisdom and another type of foolishness. In that same book he says that the world sees preaching as foolishness (Paul was even called a babbler), yet God sees it as the wisdom that he uses to save sinners, to draw sinners unto himself.

Friends, we have a choice. We have many counselors telling us what to believe. But as we consider all of the choices that we have as to which counselors we would listen to- remember this:

We can listen to the wisdom of this world, and exegete urinals, or we can listen to foolishness according to the world, and be saved. God has chosen that which is foolish to build his Church. Preaching is the wisdom of God unto salvation- and remember: It's a urinal. Period.