Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Be The Master of my Mind

Lord and Savior, true and kind,
Be the Master of my mind;
Bless, and guide, and strengthen still
All my powers of thought and will.
While I ply the scholar’s task,
Jesus Christ, be near, I ask;
Help the memory, clear the brain,
Knowledge still to seek and gain.
Here I train for life’s swift race;
Let me do it in Thy grace;
Here I arm me for life’s fight;
Let me do it in Thy might.
Thou hast made me mind and soul;
I for Thee would use the whole;
Thou hast died that I might live;
All my powers to Thee I give.
Striving, thinking, learning, still,
Let me follow thus Thy will,
Till my whole glad nature be
Trained for duty and for Thee.
Handley C.G. Moule
The Council School Hymn Book (1901)

Stafford North has said that the most important difference between a Christian school and a secular school is not that one has Bible classes and the other does not; the most important difference is in the way the non-biblical subjects are approached. 

Handley Moule was expressing a similar sentiment in the hymn “Lord and Savior.”

The goal of education is not that we be enabled to earn a living, but that we be ennobled to live a life worth living, a life that honors our Lord and blesses others. Bible knowledge is certainly a central and critical intermediate goal of our work as a church. But the ultimate goal of our work is not merely that we know the Bible, but that our “whole glad nature be trained for service and for thee.”

I try to keep this in mind as I prepare and deliver sermons. I pray that the teachers of our Bible classes and the leaders of our children’s Bible hour are also keeping it in mind. But the responsibility for the success of a class, or of a sermon, does not rest primarily with the teacher or preacher. A diligent student will often benefit even from a poorly taught class. A disinterested listener will fail to benefit even from an excellent lesson.

God has made us, “both mind and soul.” Let us be diligent to “use the whole” of our being in honoring Him.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry...”  (Colossians 3:5, KJV)

The word “mortify” is one that has changed meaning over the years. In 1611, when the King James Version was published, to mortify meant “to destroy the strength of, or to kill.”  Today the word, if known at all, is taken to mean “to subject to severe embarrassment.” There are perhaps a few other words in the verse quoted above that might not be properly understood -- even by most church members -- so let try another translation.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5, ESV) 

Are we to try to embarrass the earthly part of us? No, we should be out to kill it, not just embarrass it. Although we may not be able to kill it, at least we can hope to destroy its strength. Is this our approach to sin?

All too often, I fear, we are not trying to kill sin, we are not striving to destroy its strength. All too often, I fear, we are merely attempting to keep our sin secret or within limits that will be considered respectable by those around us. This is not the right approach.

I do not want an oncologist whose goal is to keep cancer at a respectable level where people will not notice it too much. The goal must be to kill it completely. So it is with sin. Put it to death or it will soon be putting you to death.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Everything but Jesus

On Thursday I came across this item in the bulletin of another church.

“What Makes a Great Church?”
“Not a bigger budget, but larger hearts. Not a tall steeple, but a lofty vision. Not money received, but service rendered. Not great numbers, but great love for each other. Not frantic motion, but dedicated action. Not soft seats, but courageous leadership. Not loud talking, but quiet doing. Not beautiful clothes, but beautiful lives. Not eloquent preaching, but active members. Not a gorgeous building, but good deeds.”

At first, I thought that I liked this, but on second thought I realized that something was missing. There are no wrong statements here. Each sentence, individually, is fine. But in the end I was made to ask, “Where is the Lord in this description of a ‘great church’?”

Yes, we ought to have larger hearts and loftier vision. Yes, we ought to be concerned with service and love. Yes, we need courageous leadership and active members. But none of these will make a great church - a great social club, perhaps, but not a great church.

It is the gospel that is the power of God to salvation (Rom 1:16). It is Christ who builds the church (Matt 16:18). It is Jesus Christ crucified that we must proclaim (1 Cor 2:2).

All too often we are so focused on ourselves and what we need to do to improve that we leave Christ out of his own church. Yes, we do need to improve. We need to live better lives and have loftier vision. But we ought to do these things, and we are able to do these things, only because of what he has already done.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2, ESV)
 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Special Kind of Truth

Phillips Brooks, the author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, also wrote a very useful book titled Lectures on Preaching. It is a useful book, but certainly not perfect. Brooks’ defined preaching as “the communication of truth by man to men.”  While useful, this definition has serious flaws.

My old friend Jimmy Rogers teaches chemistry at the University of Texas, Arlington. While teaching each class, he is, I trust, teaching truth. He is a man and he is teaching truth to fellow humans. Is he therefore preaching? 

Andrew Garvie tried to improve on the Brooks definition by saying that preaching is “the communication of divine truth through human personality for eternal life.” This sharpens the picture. The goal of preaching is more clearly defined, but there remain some difficulties. 

All truth has its origin in God and is therefore divine. But preaching does not aim at revealing biological, chemical or mathematical truths. Paul does not exhort Timothy to preach every kind of truth. He exhorts him to preach “the word” (2 Tim 4:1-2). It is noble to teach any aspect of truth, but Christian preaching should focus on those elements of truth that we cannot acquire by human observation, but which have been revealed to us by God’s word, and particularly by the divine word who became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:1-14; 1 Cor 2:2).

R.B. Kuiper said, “The Christian preacher must proclaim only the Word of God, and he must declare the whole Word of God.” In saying this he was echoing the apostle Paul. “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, ESV).
It is not enough that a church proclaims truth. Every institution in our society (the school, the home, the government) should be teaching truth. The unique role of the church is to give special attention to the proclamation of those aspects of truth that we do not learn from nature but from the special revelation recorded in the Bible. And in proclaiming the message of revealed truth, the church must seek to be balanced – to proclaim the whole counsel of God with the emphasis falling where the Lord has place it. Preaching that fails to do this has failed in its fundamental responsibility.