Spurgeon’s Encouragement to Church Planters and Small Churches

sun breaking throughI came across these words from the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon. He first delivered these words 144 years ago but they provide fresh encouragement today.

Thank God, there are many workers here tonight, and maybe they will put themselves down as feeble. May the words I utter be an encouragement to them, and to feeble workers collectively. When a church begins, it is usually small; and the day of small things is a time of considerable anxiety and fear. I may be addressing some who are members of a newly-organised church. Dear brethren, do not despise the day of small things. Rest assured that God does not save by numbers, and that results are not in the spiritual kingdom in proportion to numbers (“Encouragement for the Depressed,” a sermon preached on Sunday evening, August 27, 1871).

The Evangelist on the Titanic

800px-RMS_Titanic_3Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the most famous boating accident in history. On April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40pm. It sank into its watery grave on April 15, 1912 at 2:20am. The vessel settled 13,000 feet below the surface 400 miles off of Newfoundland, Canada. The wreckage, discovered in 1985, sits as a haunting monument to the ship that was hailed as the unsinkable ship. The maximum capacity on the lifeboats was not enough to rescue everyone aboard. As we now know, death awaited 1500 of the 2200 aboard that fateful night. While the ship was sinking, the good news of Jesus Christ was preached to those on board in the waning minutes of life. A man named John Harper used the last moments of his life to talk to others about their eternal destiny. Here’s the account as published online by Dan Graves, “While Titanic Sank, John Harper Preached.” Even though 1500 people entered eternity that night, perhaps some received the gift of eternal life as a result of one man’s faithful witness of Christ’s love to those who were perishing.

The clear April night sky was filled with sparkling stars as the largest and finest steamship in the world sped through the calm seas of the icy North Atlantic. Many of the passengers had gone to bed, but some still could be found in the lounges, enjoying the Titanic’s luxury. No one was alarmed by the slight jar felt around 11:15, but many noticed when they no longer felt the vibrations of the engines.

Ignoring iceberg warnings, the Titanic had been steaming full speed ahead. Suddenly she struck a large iceberg which ripped her side. Within fifteen minutes the captain realized the danger of the situation, and the wireless operator put out a call for assistance. Sailors made lifeboats ready and ordered women and children to get into them first (Christian culture had stamped the ideas of chivalry into men, making them willing to give up their lives for women and children as their protectors, something rarely seen in other cultures). There were 12 honeymooning couples on board the ship. Though all of the brides were saved, only one of the grooms survived.

The captain ordered the band to play to keep up the spirits of the passengers. It began playing a rag-time tune, but soon was playing hymns.

There were only twenty lifeboats on the huge ocean liner– barely enough for 1/3 of the passengers and crew. Not all of them could be lowered. All 85 engineers continued to work to keep the ship afloat as long as possible. At the end many people knelt together in prayer until the waters covered them.

Throughout the mournful, evacuation, with loved ones being tearfully separated, the band continued to play. There is some dispute about what was played that night. Several people in the life boats heard “Nearer My God to Thee.”

One of the passengers traveling on the ship was evangelist John Harper. He put his six-year old daughter into a life boat and then ran through the ship warning others of the danger and talking to them about the eternal destiny of their souls. When he was finally forced to jump into the icy water, he clung to a piece of wreckage and asked another man “Are you saved?” When the man answered no, John said to him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

When the Titanic sank early in the morning on this day, April 15, 1912, John Harper was among the 1,522 people who died. The band went down with the ship. The last hymn they played was “Autumn,” which concludes with the prayer

Hold me up in mighty waters
Keep my eyes on things above,
Righteousness, divine Atonement,
Peace, and everlasting Love.

Devotional Ruminations: Matthew 5:27-30

Mount of BeatitudesI am currently reading in the gospel of Matthew for my devotions. I have really been challenged to walk with Jesus and sit at His feet and reacquaint myself with what it means to be His follower. Matthew 5-7 comprise what we commonly know as the Sermon on the Mount. Contemporary Christians must hear the Master’s words and then receive them with all of their moral weight. Matthew 5:27-30 deals with the subject of lust. This sin of lust makes promise after promise to satisfy only to bring moral and marital ruin. Here are four observations on lust from the words of Jesus.

1. Lust is not confined to action, rather it is committed at the level of intent. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [action] [28] But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart [intent]” (vv. 27-28). “You can look but not touch” badly misses the mark of Jesus’ teaching.

2. Lust is a sin that promises gratification but actually leads to destruction (physical, relational, and spiritual) (cf. Proverbs 5:1-6). “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (v. 29, 30). Jesus says this twice. It should really capture our attention.

3. Lust must be fought militantly. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (v. 29)…”And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (v. 30). Hyperbole? Yes, I think so. But to simply place these statements under that literary rubric and then diminish the weight of these statements is the height of folly. If we do not resist lust (and any other sin) “to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4), we are placing our souls and bodies in eternal danger.

4. Lust does not characterize a follower of Christ. The very inclusion of this topic is an imperative for being set apart (i.e. holy) as followers of Christ. Yes, sex is a natural, God-given human drive (and it should be celebrated and enjoyed according to God’s pattern; cf. Proverbs 5:15-19; Song of Solomon). Yes, we live in a hyper-sexualized culture. Yes, we are surrounded by and immersed in sexually-charged content. But none of these realities excuse us from not battling the sin of lust. Moreover, the follower of Christ can overcome this sin (Romans 6:6-7).

We must see lust as our Lord described it. Battling and overcoming lust is what Jesus said His disciples must do, thereby distinguishing themselves as salt and light in a morally decaying and dark culture by the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So battle lust my brothers and sisters knowing that the battle is hard but the victory is yours.

(Image of Mt. Eremos from bibleplaces.com, Mount of Beatitudes)

17 Principles to Remember Concerning Sexual Purity

  1. Remember that sexual purity is first a matter of the heart (Matthew 15:19; cf. Mark 7:21).stay holy bro
  2. Remember that sexual purity begins with a pure mind (Philippians 4:8; cf. Alcorn, The Purity Principle, 45-6).
  3. Remember that our eyes must remain vigorously guarded to prevent sexual immorality (Job 31:1; Psalm 101:3; 119:37; Ecclesiastes 1:8; Matthew 5:27-28; 2 Peter 2:14).
  4. Remember that the Christian community must keep the banner of sexual purity lifted high (Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)
  5. Remember that sexual sins are not only a transgression against you but also against the person with whom you had sexual contact (1 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:6).
  6. Remember that our bodies are not ours to do with whatever we please (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
  7. Remember the notion of “not even a hint” (Ephesians 5:3, NIV).
  8. Remember to identify the “lust triggers” and aggressively avoid them (Romans 13:14).
  9. Remember that sexual immorality is behavior that is characteristic of man’s sinful state and therefore requires the just and dreadful wrath of God (Revelation 21:8). Therefore, continual failing in this area may suggest that true conversion has not taken place (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).
  10. Remember that sexual sin is contrary to sound or healthy doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10).
  11. Remember that sexual sin can happen to you (Proverbs 16:18; Galatians 6:1-3; 1 Corinthians 10:12). Some may know experientially, some may think it cannot.
  12. Remember that the choice to commit sexual sin is yours to make, the consequences are not of your choosing (1 Thessalonians 4:6).
  13. Remember the far-reaching consequences of sexual sin (2 Samuel 13).
  14. Remember that sexual temptation is inevitable but need not be overwhelming (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  15. Remember the past failures of others and the destruction that followed (Proverbs 7:5-27; Romans 1:24-27; 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:8).
  16. Remember the need for accountability (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
  17. Remember that if you’ve failed, you can overcome your sin (Romans 6:14; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 2:14) and forgiveness can be found with repentance (Isaiah 55:6-7; Psalm 130:3-4).

Is So-Called Gender Reassignment Really a Matter of Rearranging Organs?

gender_identity1Transgenderism is next on the cultural agenda according to Time magazine. The Daily Beast ran a story yesterday reporting that Obamacare will pay for gender reassignment procedures.  What we cannot miss in all of this is that worldview very much influences the whole transgender debate. So much for the worn out phrase liberals like to throw around, “you cannot legislate morality.”  What they really mean by this is “you can’t legislate your morality but we will legislate ours.”

In today’s edition of The Briefing, Al Mohler discussed an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution.”  The author is Paul McHugh, former chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. He made a very important contribution to the transgender discussion. His expertise and experience makes his perspective on this complex issue worth listening to.

“Sex change” is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.

It is worth reading McHugh’s article in its entirety, which you should do to interact honestly and fairly with it.  But what he says makes us realize that this issue is far more complex than simply rearranging organs.  The so-called gender reassignment process may make things worse before it makes them better.

Five Reminders About Pastoral Ministry from Mark Driscoll’s Announcement

140307_mars_hill_bigMark Driscoll is stepping down while accusations against him are reviewed.  Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Religion News Service published the report last night. The video is available on YouTube. Discroll is a lightning-rod figure in evangelicalism. I have not scoured the web for responses to his announcement nor do I care to. However, it has been interesting to trace the developments leading up to this moment.  Driscoll’s announcement led me to five reminders about pastoral ministry.

  1. Pastors are public figures. Pastors subject themselves to tens, hundreds, or thousands of people Sunday after Sunday depending on the size of one’s congregation. This is not inherently good or inherently bad, it is a simple reality. Pastors spend most of their time up front. Many words are spoken in just one sermon. I checked out a few of my sermon manuscripts and most manuscripts contain at least 2,000 words. This gives people plenty of fodder for discussion and/or criticism. The “up-frontness” of pastoral ministry makes it public in nature. Some criticisms will be unfair. However, pastors cannot take the posture that all critics are “haters.”
  2. Pastors have feet of clay. Pastors minister out of their frail and flawed humanity. Each pastor is normally gifted in one or two areas and deficient in many more. Pastors are often seen working out of their area of giftedness but less often seen working out of their deficiencies. This is true in a pastor’s public and personal life. The reality is that pastors are quite vulnerable in diverse ways. James 1:14 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” and again he says in James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways…”
  3. Pastors are works in progress. Driscoll observed that he moved into a place of leadership too soon. He is a living example of the warning in 1 Timothy. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). There is no way to know for certain whether a man is ready for gospel ministry. Indeed, there is the increasing sense of “who is sufficient for these things” (2 Corinthians 2:16) in the heart of a pastor. Pastors are men who are still growing in Christ. Paul Tripp has expressed some concern with the situation at Mars Hill. Tripp has stated in his book on pastoral ministry that a pastor must never lose sight of his identity, namely, that he is a “…man in the middle of his own sanctification…” (Tripp, Dangerous Calling, 25). The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15).  We should never expect a pastor to be perfect but we should expect a pastor to be progressing.
  4. Pastors need accountability.  Because pastors are in the middle of their own sanctification, some accountability structure is necessary. This should include mentors or trusted friends outside the church and leadership in the church.  When pastoral ministry is seen as a platform for carrying out personal ambitions it leads to an attitude that they can act with unchecked power.  I’m not referring to a system of “checks and balances” but a kind of system where there is some sort of accountability for carrying out pastoral ministry.
  5. Pastors need grace. When I watched the video, what struck me was Driscoll’s brokenness and accompanying humility. I don’t think the latter would be present without the former. “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:30). This has been years in the making for Driscoll. It seems as if the process is accomplishing a good work in him. Pastors will fail. Pastors will sin. Pastors will wrongly offend people. Driscoll confessed that there were times he was “angry, short, and insensitive.” When pastors sin and repent, give them grace. Give them the kind of grace that you would want in those difficult times. Give them the kind of grace God in Christ has extended to you. These are the times when Psalm 147:3 is most vividly seen, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”