My appreciation for the Puritans seems to grow every year. A couple of things moved me toward my interaction with the Puritans; one was a person and the other was book. The person was a retired pastor, Ernie Jolley, and the other was a book that he gave to me. It was written by Ralph Turnbull, The Minister’s Opportunities, which had a chapter about the priority of study and another on the minister’s library. In those chapters, Turnbull really stressed finding out who the Puritans were and to begin to read after them. I took Brother Jolley’s advice and started reading his recommendation of William Gurnall’s massive work, The Christian in Complete Armor, and I took a chance at what Ralph Turnbull recommended with Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.
Tuesday, May 02, 2017
Thursday, April 06, 2017
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, 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.