Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Book Recommendation - Meet the Puritans

An amazing book that I bought several months ago has been well worth what I paid for it. It is entitled “Meet The Puritans, With a Guide To Modern Reprints” by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson. The Puritans, particularly in our day, have gotten quite a bad name for some of their practices in the past. One of the activities that critics of the Puritans like to point out is their involvement in the Salem witch trials and the gross miscarriage of justice that was allowed. Because of that wide-sweeping characterization, much of their writings have been dismissed. In addition to this there are some huge doctrinal differences that permeate some of their writings. However, I have learned a long time ago that you read with a sifter and shake out the bad and keep the good.

This book is basically a summary of the work of many of the Puritans. The chapters run from 2 to 10 pages on each Puritan. It starts with a brief biography and then progresses to a description of their writings, sermons, and books. The book is loaded with good devotional material that will help stimulate your heart and mind from sermon preparation and Bible study. This book has become a highly treasured volume in my personal library.

If you have a high regard for Scripture and for the preaching of that Scripture, this book will certainly give you some motivation in that area. This is especially true when you begin to read some of the sermon titles associated with their study of Scripture. It is also a book that will put you on the trail of more books by the Puritans who spent much focus on gearing men toward prayer, holiness, worship, and the power of Scripture.

Just as a few examples that you will find are:

Thomas Brooks preached 58 sermons from Hebrews 12:14 and they are introduced in his book, “The Crown and Glory of Christianity.” He also wrote a book “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.” In this book he describes twelve of Satan’s devices and their remedies. He then focuses on eight devices that Satan keeps believers from using the means of grace. He writes of ten helps against the devices: walk by the rule of the Word of God, don’t grieve the Spirit, strive for heavenly wisdom, resist Satan’s first motions, labor to be filled with the Spirit, remain humble, pursue watchfulness, retain communion with God, fight Satan by drawing strength from the Lord Jesus, and be much in prayer.

Thomas Watson has become one of my favorites among the Puritans. He wrote “The Mischief of Sin” which is a written about the danger of sin. It is divided into four parts: (1) The Mischief of Sin; (2) An Alarm to Sinners; (3) The Desperateness of Sinners; and (4) Hell’s Furnace Heated Hotter. This book has some of the most incredible word pictures that you will ever read.

Benjamin Keach is described in this book also. From “Exposition of the Parables” it is noted that 147 messages are gathered from the parables which Keach preached. In “The Travels of True Godliness” he introduces the reader to over two dozen enemies of godliness. Some of them are apostasy, hypocrisy, legalism, antinominianism, worldliness, and the devil.

In the opening section, Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson give the following reasons that one will profit from reading the Puritans.

  • They shape life by Scripture.
  • They focus on Christ.
  • They make Scripture guide the life by addressing the mind, confronting the conscience, and engaging the heart.
  • They show how to handle trials. Some of the titles they mention in this point: Thomas Brooks “A Mute Christian Under the Rod”; Richard Sibbes “A Bruised Reed” and Jeremiah Burroughs “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.”
  • They show how to live in two worlds.
  • They show the power of a true spiritual life.

You can purchase the book from Reformation Heritage Books for less than $30. It is hard-bound and almost 900 pages in length.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Brendi's Big Day



Yesterday, April 12, 2008, Chad Kirkland and Brendi Mullen were married in Dothan, Alabama. They were married at the Dothan National Golf Club in an outdoor ceremony just along the edges of the course. It rained steadily most of the day until about thirty minutes before the wedding started.

You can see some of the photo's on Flickr.com. To get the best effect, click on the tab to "view as a slideshow."


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sir. . . . Reverend. . . . Would You Please Have Them Hold The Mayonnaise. . .


There are times that I really get wrapped up with being important. I mean those times when I am so into the importance thing that the whole world finds it’s orbit around me. I know that you may find that hard to believe. . . . . . . that “importance” could have such a dizzying effect on me but it does.

In fact some time ago, I found myself being very important. Our church was hosting a preaching workshop. Rick Wyser was doing his very good seminar “The Six Should-Be’s of Preaching” and I was feeling particularly important. We had plotted and planned and had all sorts of free books, gadgets, computer programs and all sorts of other things to give out to the participants. Somewhere around fifty ministers came and we were having a tremendous time. Nothing motivates me like talking about becoming a better preacher, so I was definitely enjoying the element.

We started on Friday evening and went long into the night and were to continue the next morning and work through most of the day. There I was in front of all of these ministers opening up the day with prayer and some brief but very important comments. I had on crisp, dry-cleaned clothes and a sparkling new tie and had the look of, well, importance. Right before Brother Wyser came to the platform, I managed to see someone motioning to me in the back of the church and behind the person who was motioning was someone very unimportant-looking. I knew what he wanted and I knew that in my status of current importance that I did not really want to get involved.

However, because of my importance that day, I was chosen to meet a little man who began to germinate the thoughts of what you are now reading. He was dressed in ragged clothes, his shoes were literally coming apart on his feet. He looked as if he hadn’t been near a razor or a tooth-brush in days, who knows, maybe weeks. As I got closer to him, it also became very obvious that he had not been near soap and water in several days either.

I ushered him into the office and honestly I wanted to give him a few dollars and send him on his way. See, I was busy helping Brother Wyser and busy helping other ministers become better preachers, frankly I was very busy being important. However, his story was compelling, in fact so compelling, I shall never forget that day or his story as long as I shall live.

He had a severe speech impediment that made it a little difficult to understand him. He had gotten a job with some Texas boys who had taken him to South Carolina to work at a condo along the beach. He knew how to hang sheet-rock and could paint so that is what they wanted him to do. The key to this whole deal was that the poor fellow was one of those guys that this world is constantly taking advantage of and that is exactly what happened. He had worked for three weeks and only had two-hundred dollars to show for it and then they conveniently left him in a bar in north Georgia drunk as a hoot owl. When he finally had aroused from his drunken stupor all he had was the clothes on his back, the shoes on his feet, and the two-hundred dollars were now gone!

So I began to quiz him on his story. Maybe quiz is not the right word, I began to interrogate this man. His story was so outrageous and I was so busy being important and I needed to get back in there with the action. Where is your car? I don’t have one. How did you get here? I walked. When was the last time you ate? Yesterday morning when I cleaned up some trash in a Burger King parking lot and the manager gave me some biscuits. How long have you been walking/hitchhiking from north Georgia? Four days, please sir, I am not lying to you. I see a fence row that needs cleaning off, can I do that for some money? I need to get back to Texas. How are you going to get there? Well, somebody told me in Georgia and if I could get to Hwy. 84 and follow it, it would take me to Texas.

Up to this point, my importance had been progressively dissipating but now all the importance had been effectively squeezed out of me. I took him to the fellowship hall and loaded him up with a large bag of food from the continental breakfast from our meeting. I noticed that as I walked down the hall that he was literally limping almost to the point of being crippled. I inquired about this and he told me that his feet were blistered so bad that he could not hardly walk and that he was going to rest for the remainder of the day.

I ended up taking him to a motel on Hwy. 84 and putting him in a room and thought to myself how wonderful and how benevolent that I had been on my way back to the church. It took me about twenty minutes and I slid right back into my important mode. I forgot him. . . . . . . . . until the waitress at Larry’s brought my second run of BBQ chicken around 8:30 P.M. I had been having a great conversation with Brother Wyser and Brother Patterson about. . . . . . you know, preaching and other important stuff. . . . . . but when I bit into that second run of chicken, the Lord graced my memory with that little guy. I asked Brother Patterson to take care of Brother Wyser that I had something that I needed to take care of. To this point, Brother Wyser nor Brother Patterson even knew about this little guy.

So with a full stomach and a very troubled soul, I went to this little guy’s room. The last time I had seen him had been around 9:30 that morning and it was now working toward 10:00 PM. He opened the door to my loud knock. He appeared almost fearful to me. Now as I think in retrospect he probably thought that I was coming to throw him out or take him downtown to the police station or some such as that. I asked him brusquely, “do you have any food left?” “No sir, I don’t. I ate the last of it around 2 o’clock.” “Are you hungry?” “Yes, sir, I am.” “I am going to Burger King to get you a Whopper Value Meal,” I said. I turned and started for my car and had gone no more than ten feet when I heard his voice again. “Sir. . . . . . Reverend. . . . . . would you please tell them to hold the mayonnaise?” I could not answer, I could only nod. I got in my car and he left the door open and watched me drive out of the parking lot and watched me go on down the rode.

The next twenty minutes or so as I drove to BK the Lord gave me a whole lot of insight into some things. Not an audible voice, but I heard the Lord as plain as day, tell me, “That is how you look to me when you get busy being important.” He reminded me of all the times at the great conferences that I asked Him for all the big stuff. Use me Lord to do the big stuff, the powerful things, the glamorous things, the high visibility things, let the miracles fall off of me, let my name be on the lips of all far and wide, please make me important, and by the way, God, can you hold the mayonnaise?

Where did I get that attitude from? From all of that blarney that I had been feeding my mind over the last several years, this leadership book, that time-management program, this self-development seminar, and on and on, ad nauseum. Now understand with me that I feel very strongly about all of these areas and some of the personal and professional development that has occurred within my own life could never have come to pass had I not known about the “how-to’s” and “what-for’s” of leadership development, goal-setting, and raw, rigorous discipline.

But there is something that is lost when our lives become dictated by the Covey “Habit’s.” We have a tendency to lose touch with humanity and the hurts, stresses, anxieties, and pressures that they battle with day-in and day-out. When we lose touch with those pressures that come from the pews, we become empire builders instead of kingdom builders. When I get busy intersecting flights, reserving hotel rooms, planning events, and just being important, I lose touch with what God wants for my life.

God does not want me to be important, He wants me to do His will and His will is never a mystery. His will is to do the best serving where I am when the need arises. Importance will rob you of a miracle. One of the most notable examples of this is Namaan. He almost did not get his healing because he was too important to dip in the muddy Jordan. I wonder how many miracles that I have circumvented miracles in my own life by being important.

Importance is summed up at the Last Supper when the Lord knelt down, girded with a towel, and washed all of the disciples feet. Maybe I had known it but somehow it had escaped me for all of these years that Jesus washed the feet of Judas before the supper ever began. He washed the man’s feet who was going to betray him. That is what importance really is. It is serving the Judas Kiss. It is serving the betrayer. It is ministering to the deserter.

Michael Card has a song entitled The Basin and the Towel. It goes like this:

An upstairs room, a parable is just about to come alive,

And while they bicker about whose best,

With a painful glance He’ll silently rise,

Their Savior Servant must show them how,

By the will of the water and the tenderness of the towel.

And the call is to community,

The impoverished power that sets the soul free,

In humility to take the vow,

That day after day,

We must take up the basin and the towel.

In any ordinary place or any ordinary day,

The parable can live again,

When one kneel and one will yield,

Our Savior Servant must show us how,

By the will of the water and the tenderness of the towel.

And the space between ourselves sometimes is more than the distance between the stars

By the fragile bridge of the servant’s bow,

We take up the basin and the towel.

And the call is to community,

The impoverished power that sets the soul free,

In humility to take the vow,

That day after day,

We must take up the basin and the towel.

When we bow to the basin and the towel, importance has a way of being totally removed from our lives. Servants are not very important. Servants have no rights. Servants move at the command and the whims of the master. Servants have no personal agendas they focus on the mission which supercede any personal agenda.

When we do the small things for the Lord, we advance the Kingdom. The whole attitude of importance revolts against the idea of doing something “hidden” in the Kingdom. Yet, when we fill this role of washing dirty feet, great power, great humility, great purpose slowly seeps into our lives. Increasingly, I am becoming convinced that spiritual greatness comes from serving and with heightening anonymity. Through the continual denial of the flesh, which is a monumental challenge in itself, and through the pouring out of ourselves into the lives of others with no expectations from those actions, that greatness does indeed seep into our lives. Therefore, live out and flesh out this principle of the basin and the towel because in doing so it strangles the very thin veneer of importance.

John Piper writes in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals:

We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and the heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Psalm 42:1).

But our first business is to pant after God in prayer. Our business is to weep over our sins (James 4:9). Is there professional weeping? Our business is to strain forward to the holiness of Christ and the prize of the upward call of God (Php. 3:14); to pummel our bodies and subdue them lest we be cast away (1 Cor. 9:27); to deny ourselves and take up the blood spattered cross daily (Luke 9:23). How do you carry a cross professionally? . . . .

I trust that you take this Barnabas Blog in the spirit by which I have tried to write it. We still need discipline, we must have vision, we will fail if we do not plan, and we must continue to lead, but there must in all of this be ministries marked by utter dependence on God. The Kingdom of God is not advanced with importance nor professionalism but rather with humility.

Trying to Decrease. . . .