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Creator of the Stars of Night

My poem of the week this week is this 7th century Latin hymn which captures well the truth we celebrate at Christmas.

 

CREATOR OF THE STARS OF NIGHT

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
And hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the medicine, full of grace,
To save and heal a ruined race.

Thou cam’st, the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to evening-tide;
Proceeding from a virgin shrine,
The spotless victim all divine.

At whose dread name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
And things celestial Thee shall own,
And things terrestrial, Lord alone.

O Thou whose coming is with dread
To judge and doom the quick and dead,
Preserve us, while we dwell below,
From every insult of the foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Laud, honor, might, and glory be
From age to age eternally.

-          Unknown author, 7th Century (Conditor alme siderum); translated from Latin to English by John M. Neale in the Hymnal Noted, 1852

New Commentary by Grant Osborne

osborne-colphilWhile at ETS I was able to pick up a copy of this new commentary- the initial volume of a new commentary series- by Grant Osborne. Grant was my supervisor in my masters work so I was delighted to hear that he had started this project- a verse by verse commentary through the NT in accessible language and format, engaging deeply with the text but not losing the forest for the trees.

I had the opportunity to look at this volume before it was published and I think it is great. Here is the blurb which I wrote for it:

“Grant Osborne is ideally suited to write a series of concise commentaries through the New Testament. His exegetical and hermeneutical skills are well known, and anyone who has had the privilege of being in his classes also knows his pastoral heart and wisdom. This commentary is ideal for pastors and Bible study leaders as it pays close attention to the text without getting lost in technical details. Osborne expounds the text faithfully asking what God was saying through Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon and what that means for us today. This will be a wonderful resource for preachers, Bible study leaders and for help in daily Bible reading.”

Pastoral Epistles in Southeastern Theological Review

img_3602We had a great session at the Pastoral Epistles study group at ETS last week with four strong papers. I was pleased to announce in our session that the latest issue of the Southeastern Theological Review has been released and is devoted to the Pastoral Epistles. Most of the articles came from papers previously presented in our study group. Editor, Ben Merkle, has done a wonderful job bringing these together. You can see the contents in the photo.

I had the privilege of doing an interview on how the Pastoral Epistles discussing how they have impacted my life, noting some ongoing work and pointing to various ways the church needs the Pastorals specifically today.

Southeastern posts the full journal free online, so I expect it will appear at their website soon.

 

Happy Reformation Day 2016!

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching on Romans 3 for Reformation Sunday at First Baptist Church, Jackson, TN. I tried to make clear the problem of humanity before a holy God and the only hope we have in the atoning work of Jesus.

This clip from a TV show powerfully illustrates our need for clear proclamation of the gospel. Too often today people shy away from clear proclamation of the gospel. This is a good reminder why we should celebrate the recovery of the clear gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is also a reminder that this gospel must be proclaimed. All people are running out of time, and we must tell them.

Grant Taylor on REF500

Last week Grant Taylor, Union University alum and Associate Dean of Beeson Divinity School, visited our campus and was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss how and why the Reformation is important and what we can look forward to with his boss, Timothy George, coming as one of our plenary speakers at our REF500 festival coming in March.

Lessons on Preaching from Calvin

img_3416Over the weekend The Gospel Coalition posted an article I wrote titled, “8 Lessons Calvin Teaches Us About Preaching.” As we approach Reformation Sunday this coming weekend, it is a good time to reflect on various ways we can learn from this significant time in church history.

 

My article draws from the time I spent editing and updating a new English version of Calvin’s 54 sermons on 1 Timothy (which ran to over 800 pages in manuscript). In these sermons you find a pastor who cares deeply for his people, esteems highly the Scripture and wants people to know God. There are numerous lessons to be drawn from these sermons but I pointed out these eight:

  1. Focus on Scripture itself.
  2. Not every sermon will soar.
  3. Most preaching is done in the midst of difficulty.
  4. Preachers must be both bold and humble.
  5. Preachers must be burdened for the salvation of souls.
  6. Preachers must be patient.
  7. Preaching must address everyday life, including marriage, family, and child-rearing.
  8. True biblical preaching requires searching application.

The article briefly expands each point. I hope it will be helpful particularly to those who preach the Word each week to the people of God.

Winston Churchill on Pastoral Ministry

inside-of-the-cupNo, not that Winston Churchill. I’m referring to the American novelist who was quite famous in the early 20th century. I listed his novel, The Inside of the Cup, as one of the most intriguing books I read in 2015. I had hoped to write something more extensive about the book, but as typical I have not.

This book, which was the bestselling book in the US in 1913 and made into a movie in 1921, is informative and intriguing. The protagonist, John Hodder, is a young pastor with charisma. He has recently been called from a small pastorate to the big church in the big city (which, though not named, is supposedly modeled after St. Louis). He is earnest and idealistic, upholding the historic truths of the faith which so many are abandoning. The older members of the large church are excited for him to come so that they might have a young man hold forth the old ways. Early on he takes a difficult stand on biblical ethics even when it distresses a church member. That portion of the book provides a good model of what pastors must often do even though it is hard. Early on in the book, I thought this might provide an exemplary portrait of pastoral ministry.

However, before long a change begins. Orthodoxy is portrayed as comfortable truths which insulates the powerful, protecting their position while giving them the cover of religion. Orthodoxy then is, at best, unaware of, and, more often, unconcerned for the poor and the oppressed. The pastor, John Hodder, encounters real people who have been hurt by the inhuman business practices of his leading church members and begins to reconsider his commitment to orthodoxy. Churchill portrays a brave, noble transformation as Hodder throws off doctrinal truths in favor of a social gospel.

What makes this a useful read, then? For one thing it provides a front row view of the issues fomenting in the church in the early 20th century. This book was published just 10 years before Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism. The reception of Churchill’s novel shows how this doctrineless, non-supernatural “gospel” appealed to people at the time. Secondly, it is effective propaganda. No one would want to support those who are for orthodox doctrine in this story. They are all greedy, heartless individuals who really care for Jesus no more than they do for other people. Thus, and thirdly, the book gives us a portrait of how orthodox Christianity is seen by many people. That the portrait is terribly false does not change the fact that it is common. It would be a useful exercise to work through the situations of this book discussing with others how true orthodoxy should respond, holding fast to biblical truth and showing how that relates to caring for hurting people. One thing that would become apparent is that a faithful ministry would be required to confront the powerbrokers in this church for their treatment of people. One need not jettison doctrine to do this; rather, adherence to the Scriptures will require it! A lack of careful pastoral oversight as well as formative and corrective discipline got Hodder’s church into the situation it was in.

More could be said, but perhaps this will suffice. This is not a great novel but an intriguing one which poses good questions for ministry today.

The Value and Importance of Pastoral Visitation, Responses to Thom Rainer

Recently Thom Rainer posted a column titled, “FIFTEEN REASONS WHY YOUR PASTOR SHOULD NOT VISIT MUCH.” I first heard about it from a former student who recognized that this column argued the direct antithesis of what I teach in my pastoral ministry class and what I advocate for at this site.

Thom has been helpful to many pastors, but this piece was deeply flawed and needed response. I discovered, however, that there was no need for me to respond since there are several good responses already written. Here are four good ones:

David Robertson at the Aquila Report, “The Pastor as Chief Visitor”

Gary Shogren, “Will it Kill Your Pastor if He Visits You?”

David Murray, “Pastoral Visitation a ‘Sign of Sickness’ and a “step Toward Death”?

Andrew Roy Croft, “15 Reasons Why Visitation is Vital for Your Pastor”

These men point out the historical and biblical problems with Thom’s argument. Of course, there can be a problem of people being too demanding in terms of visitation, but we must not lose the fact that pastoral visitation is central to the task of pastoring and has been recognized as such across the centuries of church history (which is often noted at this site).

Croft’s post is especially helpful in articulating the positive case for pastoral visitation.

For the Faithful Sufferer

I’m reading one of Samuel Rutherford’s letters each morning and am richly benefiting from it. What beautiful, powerful examples of pastoral care and counseling!

This morning I read his letter to Marion M’Naught from Anwoth, on July 21, 1630. Rutherford refers to the fact that she is suffering in some way due to her allegiance to the gospel, something not uncommon in those days. As I read Rutherford’s words, rich with biblical imagery and depth of insight, they made me think of faithful pastors walking through difficult times as church members oppose the word of God. I regularly speak with men in such situations and am in conversation with one now. How shall I encourage such men as they seek lovingly and patiently to lead people to the Scriptures only to be told, “I know that’s in the Bible but it won’t work,” or “I know the Bible says that but it won’t glorify God.” Those who have walked this valley know the heartache, the stomach churning and the anxiety not just for yourself and family but for the well-being of the people you are trying to serve. One brother invited critique saying he was simply trying to be faithful to the Bible and was told, “Well, that’s your problem.”

If you find yourself in a similar situation today, hear these words from Samuel Rutherford to one of his people almost four hundred years ago:

“Dear sister, do not faint; the wicked may hold the bitter cup to your head, but God mixeth it, and there is no poison in it. … I tell you, and I have it from Him before whom I stand for God’s people, that there is a decree given out, in the great court of the highest heavens, that your present troubles shall be dispersed as the morning cloud, and God shall bring forth your righteousness, as the light of the noontide of the day.”

“count much of your Master’s smiling.”

“patience, my beloved; Christ the King is coming home”

“my Master bade me tell you, God’s blessing shall be upon you for it; & from Him I say, Grace, grace, grace  and everlasting peace be upon you. It is my prayer for you, that your carriage may grace and adorn the Gospel of that Lord who hath graced you.”

Hold fast, brothers, and show yourselves faithful that the Lord might bless you at his coming. Remember whose praise you seek. One smile from Him will outweigh all the scorn the world can give. My Master bade me tell you, He knows you and your situation (Psalm 1:6), He is with you (Matt 28:20), and it will be worth it all. “Christ the King is coming home.”

The Value of Singing the Psalms

I have commented here often on the value and importance of singing the Psalms. Here is a brief (about 4 minute) video which was the opening comments before one of the Psalmfests we have held at Union. I attempt to explain why we should sing the Psalms an dhow this practice benefits us.