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A Christmas Poem

New Heaven, New War (excerpt)


This little Babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak, unarmed wise,
The gates of hell he will surprise.
With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows made of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.
His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus as sure his foe to wound,
The Angels’ trumps alarum sound.
My soul with Christ join thou in fight,
Stick to the tents that he hath dight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little Babe will be thy guard;
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from the heavenly boy.
By Robert Southwell

Being Useful to the Master

Here is the sermon I preached earlier this semester on 2 Timothy 2:14-26 at Midwestern Seminary’s chapel.

Chapel October 4, 2017 with Dr. Ray Van Neste from Midwestern Seminary on Vimeo.

Renegade: A Graphic Novel of the Life of Martin Luther

Renegade:Martin Luther, The Graphic Novel, by Dacia Palmerino and Andrea Grosso
(Plough Publishing House, October 2017), pb., 156
Ages 14+
This is an engaging and fairly detailed graphic novel on Martin Luther covering his entire life, from birth to death. It was originally written in Italian and translated into German before coming into
English this month. The authors clearly know the Luther story well and seems to be aware of some of the different debates on Luther. They do have Luther giving his defiant response at Worms on the first day he was questioning rather than on the second after asking for a day to consider the demand to recant, but this does not negate the good work throughout.
The artwork is edgy, capturing well the darkness Luther grappled with and other situations like the peasant revolt and the Black Death. This is a great tool to help people encounter Luther afresh or to engage them for the first time. I am glad to see this coming out just as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

New Article on Missions in the Reformation

STR-8_2-Cover-WEB The latest issue of the Southeastern Theological Review came out today, and it focuses on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. You can see the cover to the left, but it contains articles by Nathan Finn, Malcolm Yarnell, Stephen Eccher, and myself. Nathan’s essay and mine come from presentations given at the REF500 event at Union earlier this year.

My essay is titled, “The Mangled Narrative of Missions and Evangelism in the Reformation,” and is a continuation of work on a topic I’ve returned to a few times over the years. I chose “mangled narrative” for the title because the truth on this issue has been obscured over the years. In the minds of many people, it is an established fact that the Reformers, particularly Calvin and Luther, had no interest in evangelism or missions. However, this is completely untrue and unfair. In my essay I trace this opinion back to an influential 19th century German missiologist, Gustav Warneck, and argue his anachronistic definition of missions caused him to completely miss the Reformers. Although there is good scholarship debunking Warneck, most of the English language surveys of missions have simply repeated Warneck over the last century without engaging the scholarship which has contradicted him.

When we understand what the Reformers were doing, and when we actually read their own words we find a passion for souls which will convict us today. Rather than passing on the slander of our brothers, we’d do well to learn from these men who endured more than many of us can imagine and labored intently for the salvation of souls.

Sermon on Galatians 5:13-15

Last week I had the privilege of preaching at my home church, FBC Jackson, TN. We are in the midst of a series on Galatians so I took up the next text, Galatians 5:13-15, in which Paul begins to press home some of the practical implications of justification by faith.

Counsel to the Hot-Headed

In general, the church in America today is in great need of renewal. There is plenty to lament, and there is much work or reformation to be done. However, one major hindrance to such renewal work is well-meaning but hot-headed laborers who too easily think that offending church members is the primary mark of faithfulness. Of course, we must fear God and not man. Of course, truth will sometimes offend. But, as shepherds, we must strive, as much as is possible, to be at peace with all men. We must be patient and seek to win people to the truth, not simply rebuke and be on our way.


Strikingly, Calvin once made this point to his friend and co-laborer, Guillame Farel, the man whose fiery challenge had first convinced Calvin to stay and work in Geneva. Farel was bold. But in the letter excerpt below Calvin provides wise pastoral counsel not only for Farel but for all who labor for the good of the church today.


[letter cited from Bruce Gordon, Calvin (Yale University Press, 2009), 151.]

Luther, Believers Sing

luther w bible

“God has made our heart and spirit happy through his dear Son, whom he gave for our salvation from sin, death and the devil. Whoever honestly believes this, cannot leave it alone, but he must sing cheerfully and with joy and speak about it in order that others might listen and draw near. If, however, one does not want to sing and speak about it, it is a sign that he does not believe”

- Martin Luther, Preface to Babst’s Hymnal, 1545

Bro. Ray Newcomb, a Tribute

This afternoon I got the word from my dad. Bro. Ray had entered into his heavenly rest, had gone to be with the Jesus to whom he had introduced so many. My dad had had the privilege of sitting with him during part of his stay in the hospital, and my dad was glad to do it because of how much Bro. Ray has meant to our family.

I am very grateful to have been a recipient of Ray Newcomb’s ministry. As I’ve visited various churches around West Tennessee over the last 30 years, I have been proud to say that I came from First Baptist Church in Millington and was one of Bro. Ray’s boys. As I consider what I received from Bro. Ray, I am particularly grateful for several things.

First, I received a bedrock certainty in the absolute truthfulness of God’s word. My family showed up at FBC Millington believing this truth and then Bro. Ray hammered this point home. When I went on to college I realized what a gift it is to have been nurtured in confident reliance on the Word of God as I encountered others who lacked such confidence. Bro. Ray told us the Bible was inerrant, showed us how it proved true and then preached and lived like it was true.

Second, I learned the absolute necessity of evangelism. Bro. Ray faithfully stressed that all people are lost and under the judgement of God apart from Jesus and that it is our responsibility to share the gospel with them. Thus, I grew up knowing clearly that we are sinful and that God is willing to save. These are basic truths that too many people today do not realize. In this sort of ministry we teenagers were taught how to share the gospel and were given regular opportunities to do so. I am so grateful for being taken as a group to various subdivisons and being dropped off at one end of the street in order to go door to door at each house endeavoring to share the gospel. There is no better way to learn. At that time I had no idea there were countless people in churches who had never been taught to share the gospel and had never taken the opportunity to do so. I am grateful to have been brought up in a setting where we were taught and sent out.

I am grateful to have heard the saving message of the gospel on a regular basis. Years later I met a friend who grew up in another church nearby. He shared how although he grew up in the church and attended regularly he had never heard the gospel until he went to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting at his high school one day. Thankfully, he did hear the gospel, and he was converted. I remember how shocked I was to hear his story, and how grateful I was that the gospel had been the center of the preaching I had heard.

Third, Bro. Ray preached through the Bible. After I went to college and then on to seminary I was in countless settings where other preachers would say to me or to a group I was in, “I bet you’ve never heard a sermon on ____.” Every time- every time- I had to spoil the point by saying, “Yes, I actually have.” Once while I was serving at a church during college the visiting preacher for our revival said he was going to preach on the unpardonable sin. Then he looked at me and a fellow college student and said, “I bet you’ve never heard anyone preach on that before have you!” I felt bad for him to have to say, “Yes, sir, I have and I remember the sermon well.” Others would say, “When was the last time you heard a sermon on hell?” Quite recently. Bro. Ray hit all these points. It really was later as I listened to others that I realized what a rare introduction to the Bible I had received by sitting under his preaching three times a week.

Lastly, Bro. Ray loved people. That, of course, is why he spent so much time on Navy Road talking to whomever he could in order to share the gospel with them. It is also why he called my mom, my dad, or my grandmother at various times to check on them. It is why he took the time to come have dinner with us the last time my parents, brother and our families all gathered at Pickwick and why he lingered around the table to talk to and share wisdom with two of us who’d surrendered to ministry under him. I remember him telling us about a turning point in his ministry early on in dealing with criticism. Rather than taking offense when people came to tell him what they were dissatisfied with, he began taking out a pad of paper and asking them in all genuineness to tell him everything they felt he was doing wrong. He would not interrupt or defend himself. Once they were finished he would say, “Thank you for sharing these with me. I will work on them. Will you pray with me now and pray for me to improve in these areas.” He said this made all the difference, and I can imagine it did.

No man and no ministry is perfect. Bro. Ray would be the first to say that. But I am deeply grateful I had the privilege of growing up under the ministry of Ray Newcomb. I count myself among the many who were richly blessed by God through him.

Resources for Luther Sites in Germany

Those with whom I am connected on Facebook saw my photos and updates from my recent Luther and Bach Germany tour with the Union University Singers. It was great to visit these key places about which I have read and thought so much. I was surprised that so many places were not yet completely ready for visitors. With the famed German efficiency I figured everything would have been ready last year. Nonetheless they are in full swing to be ready by this summer.

I hope to post some further reflections, but here I want to acknowledge two main books which served as travel guide sources for me. First and most helpful to me was a children’s book by Douglas Bond- Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation. Bond weaves a compelling story around a visit through Germany as well as Geneva and other Reformation sites. Since the story draws on Bond’s own experience visiting these places, this was very valuable.

Secondly, Martin Luther’s Travel Guide: 500 Years of the 95 Theses: On the Trail of the Reformation in Germany, edited by Cornelia Dömer, was quite helpful. The introduction by respected Lutheran church historian, Robert Kolb, is itself a great resource as he reflects on the value and importance of place. The guide lists key sites in each city with historic information as well as contact information and travel directions.

These are great books on their own and will be helpful if you get to make a visit.

“Arise, My Soul, Arise”

Some of the best summaries of Reformation teaching are Wesley hymns. My poem of the week this week is Charles Wesley’s “Arise, My Soul, Arise.” We sang this grand hymn this past Sunday in church and I was reminded of what a wonderful summary of gospel truth it is.

Arise, My Soul, Arise

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

- Charles Wesley