Recently I have spent a bit of time revisiting the Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. One of the things that Bunyan seems to stress during the story is the need for friendship and fellowship along the way to the Celestial City. Two of the more constant companions that Christian kept with him were two men, Faithful and Hopeful. The way is difficult but through the avenue of friendship, Christian and his companions find the way to be much easier. For more than ten years, I have been friends with Ben Weeks, pastor of Truth Harbor in Lake Park, Georgia which is just outside of Valdosta, Georgia. He is a Christian gentleman of the finest sort and he has a renowned preaching ministry that has been widely received in all sorts of national and international venues—conferences, camp meetings, marriage retreats, and pastoral anniversaries. For the last decade we have met at various times in Thomasville, Georgia, which is about half-way between Dothan and Valdosta to eat at Sonny’s BBQ and other little hole in the wall restaurants there to talk about the Bible, matters of theology and doctrine, preaching, church life and sometimes just the mundane insignificant things that take place in life.
Thursday, April 06, 2017
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Over the last several posts, I have tried to analyze some of the characters of Pilgrim’s Progress that was written by John Bunyan in 1678. We have visited with Ignorance, Evangelist, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Valiant for Truth, and Mr. Fearing. These travelers will be ones that we meet along the way in our trek toward the Celestial City. Bunyan’s observations of people in the 17th century still hold true for much of what we see in our times as well. You can see for yourself that these people along the way very much fit into the category of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem about being a lifter or a leaner. A lifter is someone who makes deposits of encouragement and hope into your life. A leaner is one who great withdrawals and they will do so until you are literally sapped of emotional and spiritual strength. Great Heart falls into the category of a man who was not just a lifter, he was a very heavy lifter. He fills the role of a pastor whose calling and job it is to guide pilgrims to the shore of the river crossing that will lead to the Celestial City.
He is a man who represents to us the hard work and necessary discipline that is required to do this great job. There are some other pastors that Bunyan writes into the story as well. Obviously, Evangelist fits the role of a pastor and he appears all throughout the life of Christian but there are specifically four others besides Evangelist and Great Heart. Their names are Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Desire. These four keep their watch from the mountain tops in the steep ranges where sheep are cared for in the pastures. They care for the flocks and help the pilgrims primarily in two ways. They use the alternating tools of hope and fear as they lead their charges. They speak of hope when they mention the end of the destination that will have great glory. They sometimes resort to using fear by warning of some well laid temptation will lead them to turning back to the cities and towns they came from. Pastoral ministry in our day has never been more critically needed because of the great spiritual and moral drift and dire need for revival. There are Great Hearts scattered all over God’s Kingdom who are literally carrying entire churches on their shoulders. It is only in their absence that one really senses how important they are to us.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
To revisit Pilgrim’sProgress over the last couple of weeks has been a wonderful experience. In one of the previous posts, I mentioned that I had originally been introduced to this fine book by Pastor John Harrell in Bridge City, Texas. For years in Bridge City, the church has been shepherded by Brother Harrell’s preaching and praying and woven all through those years were numerous illustrations that he would pull from this book and masterfully use them in his sermons. If you have never read Pilgrim’s Progress, my question is this: What doth hinder thee? Perhaps that is a humorous way to express it but in all seriousness, the book opens up the mind an awareness that human behavior is no different in the 1600’s than it is in 2017.
Friday, March 24, 2017
There are aspects of John Bunyan’s famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress that have more details as you read on through the second portion of it concerning Christian’s wife and children who flee from the City of Destruction. As their story unfolds, we read about some events that Christian went through but is not as detailed in the first half of the story as he is relating a first person account. The story told by one of those characters in the second half is who I want us to visit with now. The character is Valiant for Truth. What a powerful name that Bunyan picks out for this young man, this young soldier, this young minister. Bunyan is playing off Jeremiah 9:3 where the weeping prophet notes that there are some who aren’t valiant for the truth. One of the chief characteristics of John Bunyan is pointed out by Charles Spurgeon and it is observed very clearly in this segment of the allegory. Spurgeon noted that in reading all of Bunyan’s works and actually having read Pilgrim’s Progress more than 100 times, he said that when you read Bunyan, “he bleeds bibline.” That means that his writings are so loaded with Scripture that you cannot help but notice how familiar that Bunyan is with the Word and he brings forth its application to us in a very helpful way.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
John Bunyan’s famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress is filled with men and women who happened along the path of Christian as he has started his journey toward the Celestial City. We have spent a little time with Ignorance who wanted to talk Christian into trying to make the journey on his own works. Evangelist is another character who was very instrumental in the conversion and later the discipleship of Christian. He is representative of a faithful godly pastor who spends time and effort working with the travelers as they labor through the journey. We now come to another impediment, another character, who will serve as an agent of Satan to hinder the pilgrim’s progress. Mr. Worldly Wiseman is a convoluted but very brilliant soul. His brilliance rivals that of Ignorance who was just as polished and shameful except Mr. Worldly Wiseman is an older gentleman who has been around the world for a while and knows the general thoughts and doubts of the travelers.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Returning to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, I want to look at another one of his characters. This book over the years has been one I return to regularly and read various scenes from because even though it was written in 1678 still has a profound grip on presenting human behavior in an incredible way. It was recommended to me by Brother Harrell in Bridge City a number of years ago. It is rare to dig into this allegory about a man on a path toward the Celestial City and not come away with some spiritual benefit.
The next character to assess is a man named Evangelist. This character shows us the impact that a godly pastor/preacher/teacher can have on one traveling the Christian path. It is compelling how that Bunyan begins the book by telling us that it is a story of a man who is walking through the wilderness of this world. If ever there were a phrase that could sum up what we are doing as we walk out the Christian life, it would certainly have to be admitted that we are in the wilderness—morally, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. While there are some who looking for all manner of solutions to save the world, the society, the environment from whatever deadly challenge it is facing, there is only one solution—to be born again.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
It has been a long while since I have written anything about John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I can still remember 15 years ago, or more that Brother John Harrell, long-time pastor of Bridge City UPC, recommended that I read dig into that allegory. He told me that it was loaded with sermon thoughts and illustrations and profitable spiritual motivation. I have written in the past about Brother Harrell and the uniqueness by which he would weave the Pilgrim’s Progress into his sermons. As I started reading Bunyan, it led me to another allegory he wrote, The Holy War, which had some excellent contributions to make as well about convictional preaching. I have explored some themes from that book as well in the past on this blog (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part4, Part 5).
I would be remiss a well if I didn’t mention Paula Thompson, aka The Tape Lady, who worked for years as the one who put together the cassette tapes and later the CD’s of Brother Harrell’s preaching to be mailed all over the US. So many preachers and saints benefited from the preaching that came out of Bridge City during that time and while she has passed on from this life, I truly believe her reward of service in this way is very great. But as I thought on the Pilgrim’s Progress, I began to mull over some of the characters that Christian ran into along his way to the Celestial City. These characters are multi-faceted and are pulled from sidewalks and alleys of every single person’s life who has ever walked this Christian path.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
November 13, 2015 around dusk here in Dothan, I had just gotten in my car around 6 PM for a drive of a little over an hour to a sectional rally when the top of the hour newscast began describing the terrorist attacks in Paris. These attacks fell into a different category because they had been coordinated to hit several different places in Paris at the same time. Only 10 months earlier in January, terrorists had attacked Charlie Hebdo and two days later a Jewish grocery store had been attacked as well all leaving a small number of casualties but not a large amount of injuries. On the way home from the sectional rally, the talk radio outlets, which I hadn’t listened to for several years lured me back in, because they were blazing with opinions and reports. I cannot remember where or how I ran across a New York Times journalist but Rukmini Callimachi entered my world that evening
Friday, January 06, 2017
Top Ten Books of 2016 -- #9 From Here to Maturity--Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity--Thomas E. Bergler
TheJuvenilization of American Christianity. This book, From Here to Maturity--Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity, was written in 2014 after the initial volume was written in 2012 dealing with the immaturity of American churches. Bergler noted that he wrote the second book as a response to the heavy load of correspondence that he received from his readers. They understood what he was stating but they wanted to know what the remedy was to move Christians toward a higher level of spiritual maturity. Chapter 1 is sort of rehash of the first book so that if you have not read the first one, Bergler does his best to give you the first book in a capsule form in 25 pages. While this book is not written to apostolic Pentecostals, I do very strongly feel that there are some components that need to be taken with the seriousness of which Bergler writes. One thing that struck me was that spiritual adolescents are drawn to religious experiences that produce emotional highs and sometimes assume that experiencing strong feelings is the same thing as spiritual authenticity. While emotion is a part of Pentecostal worship, we dare not reduce it simply to that! We are called to self-denial and to bearing crosses in this life!
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Reading has long been a vice of mine although it is one of those necessary vices that is important. I looked at the books that I read this past year and found that my reading preferences have changed significantly in the last several years and that will be reflected in the books that I will countdown this month. The book slotting in at number ten is by Thomas E. Bergler. He is an associate professor of ministry and missions at a university in Indiana. I heard the title of this book mentioned by a preacher whose podcast I frequently listen to and purchased it.
This book, The Juvenilizationof American Christianity, is not just a book that deals with religious issues and practice but it deals with sociological issues that are facing the church as well. He also deals with the history of youth movements both political and religious in a way that teaches through an observation of history. While Bergler is not Pentecostal in his moorings, he makes some observations that fits the variety of every church in America, some of which I see invading Pentecostal churches as well.
Monday, December 12, 2016
Several months ago, I reviewed some study Bibles (Holman, NIV, ESV, Dugan, Hebrew-Greek Keyword) that I found to be helpful for expositors. The Bibles that I reviewed were primarily those that fell into a category of general readership and those that were commonly found at large in big box Christian bookstores. There are several Bibles that I am going to write reviews of in the next few days that fall into a variety of subsets of Christian doctrines and views. While some of these Bibles can be purchased in big box stores, there are a few that you may have to track down through on-line sources.
Friday, December 09, 2016
It is obvious from the flurry of writing that I am doing on the Barnabas Blog that you can tell it is the end of the year. I generally try to put out a “Top Ten” list of books that I have read the previous year. This year is a little different because I have read so many good books, helpful books, and changing-my-thinking books that it is hard to say which one was the best one. I probably read too many books about preaching during the year but since it is what I do, I read in an effort to sharpen both mind and efforts in that category. I mentioned to the church recently that when they get to heaven one of the jewels they will get in their crown will be from having to endure my preaching. I hope it is not an endurance factor for them but one that encourages their spiritual growth.
This book, Engaging Exposition, by Daniel Akin, Bill Curtis, and Stephen Rummage will be very difficult to unseat as one of the best I have read and interacted with this year. It was given to me by one of our lay ministers, Charlie Joyner, a couple of months ago. It has an incredible range about it. It speaks to the rigorous academic side that preaching should be subjected to—areas like hermeneutics, the inspiration of Scripture, the different genres of Scripture, and how to identify the main idea of a passage of Scripture. It also has a section that deals with the nuts and bolts of building a sermon. Even though I have been preaching for almost 25 years, this kind of practical advice is always good for me. The last section of the book speaks to the actual delivery of the sermon itself.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
One of the genres of books that I enjoy as a preacher is the group that deals with act and art of preaching itself. If you have read this blog for any length of time, you have discovered that I have recommended a lion’s share of books about preaching—most have been to do with expository preaching. It is good for preachers to continue to read books that will sharpen their skills as a preacher. Because I believe that preaching—both the delivery by the preacher and the listening by the hearer—is an act of worship, I believe a preacher should do everything within his power to get better at preaching. One of the ways that we can get better is to read books about preaching.
Last week, a friend of mine, Wayne Naylor, sent me a book, A Guide to Expository Ministry which has been edited by Dan Dumas. It is a little over a hundred pages in length and it is packed with very good advice. However, the advice in this book comes from a bit of a different angle in that it addresses the expositor in the first half and the listener in the second half. I believe that churches that trend toward expository, verse-by-verse preaching goes a long way to creating something that takes place in the pews. What takes place in the pews is a heightened awareness of the power of Scripture. So Dumas and his covey of writers are working the angles of both the preacher’s responsibility and the saint’s duty as well.
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
There is something that takes place when you began to move beyond that middle point of life. You tend to look back in retrospect at time and opportunity that was squandered. You look forward with much more concern about the great values and virtues of a spiritual life than what was in those early years of youthful inexperience. Age uniquely brings a sobriety, a seriousness, a focus, and at times even a sense of grimness to the mind. This is especially true for a Christian pastor, or in my thoughts, it should be. One of those areas of my own personal calling and ministry that I am looking back to are the countless times that I said, “I am an assistant pastor, preacher, minister not a theologian.” Increasingly as my preaching style has drastically changed from my earlier years from topical preaching to much more expository preaching, I have been greatly convicted by the Spirit of God and my interaction with the Word of God that pastors need to be
Monday, October 31, 2016
There is a quiet buzzing that is beginning to rise from the grassroots among Pentecostal preachers. Increasingly I am hearing a faint drum beating that is somewhat like music to my ears. I am listening to remarks about Pentecostal preaching and its need of reformation at all levels; local, district, and national. Our preaching has somewhat degenerated into cheerleading sessions that tout the accomplishments of the preacher or a local church or parachurch organization. Our preaching has deteriorated into messages that take grand liberties with the text that the preacher may have read and wrested it from its true biblical context. When we take liberties with the biblical text and take it out of context, we have basically said that what we have to say is more important than what God has to say by His Word. It is my belief that out of context preaching is a very shrewd form of idolatry. Furthermore,
Friday, October 07, 2016
This past March (2016), a good friend of mine recommended a book to me, Out of the Flames, by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. Not only is this book one of the best books I have read this year, it probably will fall into the category of one of the greatest books that I have read in my lifetime. The subject matter of the book is “the remarkable story of a fearless scholar, a fatal heresy, and one of the rarest books in the world.” It is the story about Michael Servetus who was one of the most brilliant men that has ever lived. Not only was Servetus a theologian, he was also a scientist and was one of the first to discover the pulmonary circulation of the blood through the lungs but he also wrote a book that cost him his life.
One of the reasons that I believe this book is so important is not only for the content of the book but also who wrote it. It is written by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, a husband and wife team, who are not theologians. This is important because of the subject matter they write about concerning Michael Servetus and his battle with one of the most sadistic souls who has ever lived, John Calvin. The Goldstones are primarily book collectors and write about antiquarian books which are books that are very rare and usually very old. One of the book’s descriptions states that the Goldstones are interested in the “enduring legacy of books.” Because they are not theologians or church historians they have a tendency to write their book about Servetus without the normal bias that comes against Servetus by so many of the church historians, theologians, and religious philosophers who do undertake the task of writing about the conflict between Servetus and Calvin. In fact, I have read before various accounts by authors who generally come from a Reformed bent and it appears to me that before they ever get their thoughts off the ground, Servetus is under a severe thrashing.
Monday, October 03, 2016
Friday, July 01, 2016
This is the second outing that we are going to spend with George Swinnock whom was introduced in the previous post. One of the chief ways of gaining insight into the Puritans is the need to read their sermons but even more so than that is to think and meditate on what they have written. Early on you will discover that there were some matters that set the writings of the Puritans apart. I intend on showing you some of the chief themes and characteristics about their preaching. First, they were very concerned about the state of their conscience. Secondly, they were very focused in on the brevity of life. Thirdly, they used some of the most masterful word pictures in their preaching. I have gathered most of the material I will write today from Volume 1 of George Swinnock’s work (pp. 1-26).
The State of the Conscience
The condition of the human heart is sinful and has great proclivities toward sin. This is the reason that men must be converted because of his fallen nature. Never be surprised at the actions that sinners fall into. “Men’s hearts naturally, are like Nebuchadnezzar’s, the hearts of beasts, grazing only in fleshly pastures, savouring only sensual pleasures, till their reason returneth to them; then they bless and honour the most high God, who liveth forever, Dan. iv. 34; then they mind spiritual dainties, and relish celestial delights” (pp. 3-4). This is the kind of understanding of the human condition that has been seriously lost and sorely neglected by much of our world today. Somewhere along the way, educators, politicians, news commentators, and even religious leaders have come to believe that man is basically good. Take that single sentence that Swinnock wrote in the 17th century and make a comparison with any Christian bestseller today and you will notice a drastic difference in the content of the books. In fact, the New York Bestseller List for the Religion/Spirituality list for today has a book about Scientology in the first slot. The books that follow are those which are very marketable which means that there is very little of a call toward holiness and devotion to God but rather how to get God to do what we want Him to do.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
It seems like forever ago that I spent a month blogging about some of the Puritans. Back in March 2012, I wrote a series of articles on Puritan preaching along with a brief sketch of some of the Puritan preachers. Those men were Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Shepherd, and Thomas Watson. During the last five years, I have continually drawn from the writings of these men and their works have often been as refreshing to me as an artesian well that watered my soul. Their commitment to personal holiness, private prayer, and passionate but deep preaching has certainly been a motivation for me. With that in mind, I have determined to spend another month with the Puritans in hopes that those who read this will make a decision to explore some of the lives and works of these men.
Wednesday, December 09, 2015
Study Bibles for Expositors--The Holman Christian Standard Study Bible (HCSB)--Holman Bible Publishers
This study Bible is the sixth one that I will review. Several years ago I ran across a garage sale where due to some very unfortunate events a man had compromised his ministry and his family was selling all of his books, commentaries, and Bibles. While I did find some very useful books at dirt-cheap prices, I did not want to purchase the Bibles because there was a little something sacred about them even though this man was not of my doctrinal persuasion. As I was about to leave, his ex-wife came over and gave me a copy of a very nice leather bound Holman Christian Standard Bible that was just plain text with a single reference column. I started to read it some weeks later and found it to be a thought-provoking translation.
Tuesday, December 08, 2015
We have been reviewing several study Bibles that I thought would be helpful to those who are making a concerted effort to become effective expositors. An expositor is a preacher who has a commitment to preach through the Bible dealing with the context, the doctrinal content, and the application to a New Testament apostolic church. Expository preaching can be best summed up in this threefold manner: Read the text, explain the text, and apply the text. On the other hand don’t let that greatly simplified form lead you to think that this makes for simple preaching for it does not. I have been working at this angle of preaching for a little over ten years now and it is the most demanding sort of preaching that a minister can give himself to. It requires great discipline and you have to get control of your personal schedule so that you can effectively work somewhere that is free from interruptions. However, the soul building that takes place in the preacher and in the life of the church will be astounding! So all of these study Bibles that I have been reviewing for the last four posts is nothing more than an effort to encourage men to be students of Scripture.
Monday, November 23, 2015
The fourth study Bible that I would like to recommend to those who are endeavoring to develop into being an expositor is one that is very useful in looking at a text in a bit of a different light. The NIV Archaeological Study Bible published by Zondervan is another excellent tool for those who would be critical of the biblical text. A preacher will preach to a wide variety of people that visit the church where he will pastor. For the most part the vast majority of apostolic churches have people who attend that believe the Scriptures to be authentic, inspired, inerrant, and authoritative. But we have unbelievers who attend that do not have the same shared confidence in Scripture that we might not have and we have college students who attend schools where professors and other students can be militantly hostile against the Word of God. This Bible is very helpful in combatting some of that rhetoric.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Monday, November 09, 2015
The next study Bible on the list is the English Standard Version (ESV) published by Crossway, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. The ESV was initially published in 2001 however the Study Bible was published in 2011. If you are a Bible reader and are familiar with other translations, it won’t take you long to realize that the ESV closely resembles the New American Standard Bible. There are not a lot of changes between to the two to the casual reader. I am certain that it you made a comparison with charts and diagrams and so forth that there would be some notable differences between the two of them. Before going further I would like to point out my usual disclaimer that just because I am a reader of this particular translation it does not mean that I can entirely endorse everything about the ESV Study Bible. I look at it as simply being another tool in the toolbox of one who desires to be serious about the exposition of Scripture in his preaching.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
Part 1—Hebrew-Greek KEY WORD Study Bible—AMG Publishers
If you would be a serious expositor of God’s Word, you are constantly on the lookout for good resources that will help you to pull all you can from the biblical text. One of tools that you need is good study Bibles. There was a time not too long ago when we would have had to say a good study Bible but as times have progressed there are many choices of study Bibles that are available for us to use. For the month of November I intend to do a review of a host of study Bibles that I have found helpful to me in the last several years. Another reason that I am going to spend November to do this would be because of Black Friday being just around the corner. If you live near a chain Christian bookstore, you can pick up many of these study Bibles very cheaply and even more so if you decide to go with hardbound instead of bonded or genuine leather.