Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John Owen on "the mortification of sin"

John Owen (1616-1683) on "the mortification of sin":

"Sin does not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion."

"Who can say that he had ever anything to do with God or for God, that indwelling sin had not a hand in the corrupting of what he did? And this trade will it drive more or less all our days. If, then, sin will be always acting, if we be not always mortifying, we are lost creatures. He that stands still and suffers his enemies to double blows upon him without resistance will undoubtedly be conquered in the issue. If sin be subtle, watchful, strong, and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and we be slothful, negligent, foolish, in proceeding to the ruin thereof, can we expect a comfortable event? There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so while we live in this world."

"This is one main reason why the Spirit and the new nature are given unto us--that we may have a principle within us whereby to oppose sin and lust. 'The flesh lusts against the Spirit.' Well! and what then? Why, 'the Spirit also lusts against the flesh' (Gal. 5:17). There is a propensity in the Spirit, or spiritual new nature, to be acting against the flesh, as well as in the flesh to be acting against the Spirit (2 Pet. 1:4-5). It is our participation of the divine nature that gives us an escape from the pollutions that are in the world through lust; and there is a law of the mind (Rom. 7:23), as well as a law of the members. Now this is, first, the most unjust and unreasonable thing in the world, when two combatants are engaged, to bind one and keep him up from doing his utmost and to leave the other at liberty to wound him at his pleasure; and, secondly, the most foolish thing in the world to bind him who fights for our eternal condition and to let him alone who seeks and violently attempts our everlasting ruin. The contest is for our lives and souls. Not to be daily employing the Spirit and new nature for the mortifying of sin is to neglect that excellent succor which God has given us against our greatest enemy. If we neglect to make use of what we have received, God may justly hold his hand from giving us more. His graces, as well as his gifts, are bestowed on us to use, exercise, and trade with. Not to be daily mortifying sin is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who has furnished us with a principle of doing it."

These passages are from Overcoming Sin and Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen, ed. by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), pp. 51, 52, 53-54. I highly recommend you get ahold of this book and read it (I just started it this past weekend).

If you need help deciding whether or not Overcoming Sin and Temptation would be a worthwhile purchase for you, I recommend you read John Piper's foreword from the book, now posted at Desiring God.

"I Want A Principle Within"

This is my prayer, too:

I want a principle within
Of watchful, godly fear;
A sensibility of sin,
A pain to feel it near.

Help me the first approach to feel
Of pride or wrong desire;
To catch the wandering of my will,
And quench the kindling fire.

From Thee that I no more may stray,
No more Thy goodness grieve;
Grant me the filial awe, I pray,
The tender conscience give.

Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make!
Awake my soul when sin is nigh,
And keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love,
To me Thy power impart;
The burden from my soul remove,
The hardness from my heart.

O may the least omission pain
My reawakened soul;
And drive me to that grace again,
Which makes the wounded whole.

—Charles Wesley (1707-1788)


Monday, October 30, 2006

One more...

One more post you need to check out:

Over at Adrian Warnock's Blog, there's a link to, "Updated: The problem of Scripture-less worship", which is posted on Expository Thoughts (You could just go straight to Expository Thoughts, but Adrian Warnock has some other interesting posts and links that I think would be worth checking out).

This is the third post I've mentioned which relates to the issue of the place Scripture holds in contemporary evangelical churches. I guess I'm really bothered about this because I grew up in a church and denomination where (truth be told) the gospel wasn't preached. I saw the awful results firsthand. It just breaks my heart to now see evangelicals heading down the same slippery slope the mainline church has already traveled (usually, it seems, in a misguided effort to reach the unchurched). Anyway, you must read this post.

A few great posts

There are a few great posts out there that I'd like to call your attention to:
First of all, at Pyromaniacs, Dan Phillips has a must-read titled, "No Bible verses were harmed (--or even touched!) in the writing of this sermon". Pastors/preachers, read and take heed, please.
Then, at Pure Church, Thabiti Anyabwile has some excellent "Reformation Day Reflections". Read of God's sovereignty in bringing Reformation truth to the African slaves.
I can't pass up the powerful Spurgeon quote at Non Nobis Domine, under Anthony Carter's post for "Reformation Day". There you will also find a good book recommendation.
Finally, read Michael Mewborn's post, "Get Caught Up!", at Reformed Blacks of America. I think his final two paragraphs make an insightful statement about how needed Reformation can be brought to the Black Church.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Mark Dever quotes David Wells: "When the Church loses the Word of God..."

Mark Dever quotes David Wells, in his post at "Together for the Gospel", regarding the importance and centrality of the Word of God in the worship service. Read it here, please. Wells makes an important point worth remembering.
I hope you have a blessed Lord's Day tomorrow and that God's Word is faithfully proclaimed where you worship.
And don't forget to "Fall back" one hour tonight. Enjoy the extra hour of sleep!

About books

As I've surfed the "blogosphere", more than once I came across this set of questions concerning one's reading, with which people have been "tagged" for their responses. No one "tagged" me, but I'm going to answer them, anyhow.
One book that changed your life: The Pleasures of God, by John Piper. Most readers of Piper would probably point to Desiring God, but I started with this book and was hooked. It was through The Pleasures of God that I was introduced to "Christian Hedonism". It was also this book which, probably more than anything else outside the Bible, helped push me all the way over into the Calvinist camp.

One book you've read more than once: Unfortunately, I don't get around to reading books twice. There are just too many I'd simply be glad to read once, if possible. I would like to read Piper's Desiring God and The Pleasures of God again (next time, in the correct order). Knowing God, by J.I. Packer and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress are also well worth my reading again.

One book you'd want on a desert island, besides the Bible: Just one book?! Because it is so full of biblical content, I think I'd choose The Pleasures of God (My choice might change by the end of the year but, as of today, that would be my choice).

One book that made you laugh: The Gospel Sound by Anthony Heilbut. His descriptions of the gospel music experience in the Black Church are hilarious, if you've been there and witnessed "my people" in action. Now that I think about it, there is this scene in Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison (which I read some 20+ years ago), replete with profanity, that made me laugh to the point of tears. I'm not endorsing profanity, but I grew up hearing so much of that it was very easy to picture Ellison's characters in my mind. And they "cracked me up".

One book that made you cry: I drew a blank here. Lots of things make me tear up (my own posts have caused me to tear up). It's really hard for me to narrow it down to a particular book. Every good Christian book makes me cry at least once. Sorry.

One book you wish had been written: Any biography of a truly godly Black preacher of the past. I have few biographies of Black preachers. Most of them fail to probe the spiritual side of the person in any meaningful way (and a couple of those I have that do, reveal a person that may not have been a true believer). The best two I have are the autobiographies of Richard Allen (1760-1831) and Daniel Alexander Payne (1811-1893). From their own words, I judge these men to have been faithful followers of Christ. How much have you read about them? Not much, I'm guessing. It's nice to know about Martin Luther, John Calvin, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and the like, but it would mean so much to read a well-written, Christian biography about a godly Black preacher of the past. I sure would appreciate having more Black role models, and I know it would be helpful to have Black Christian role models to which I could point young Black people, other than politicians, civil rights leaders and athletes.

One book you wish had never been written: I can't stop with just one. I honestly believe the Church could do without the whole Left Behind series, every book written by John Shelby Spong, any book by any member of the "Jesus Seminar" (Marcus Borg, et al.), anything by a health/prosperity/faith preacher (e.g., Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Juanita Bynum, Fred Price, Kenneth Copeland, Bill Winston, etc.), and any book promoting "Open Theism", the "Emergent Church" or the "Seeker-Sensitive" movement.

One book that you are currently reading: I just bought it today! Overcoming Sin & Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor. It's supposed to be a more accessible edition of John Owen's works, Of the Mortification of Sin, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It and Indwelling Sin. I'm looking forward to diving in, starting today. Pray for me that I hold out to the end!

One book that you've been meaning to read: I just finished two of them within the past month: The Life of God in the Soul of Man by the Rev. Henry Scougal (1650-1678), and A Hunger for God, by John Piper. I've had Scougal's book for 10 years and just got around to reading it last month, and I've had Piper's for 5 years. They were both well worth the wait.
Now, it's your turn!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is this the judgment of God?

Dr. John Piper has an excellent and highly relevant message on the subject of homosexual marriage that is must reading. Posted on the Desiring God website, you can read it here.
Speaking of homosexual marriage, I wonder (and I’m just speculating here—I trust that it’s a sanctified speculation but, nonetheless, it is speculation): is our nation experiencing a degree of God’s judgment?

Think about it: Twenty years ago, I don’t think anyone would have seriously considered endorsing homosexual “marriage”. I know when I was in high school (25-29 years ago), we would have thought such a thing just plain weird and disgusting (in fact, people got “beat up” for less!).

Alarmingly, with the dawn of the 21st century, we’ve arrived at the point where otherwise intelligent people, with straight faces, proclaim that homosexuals and lesbians have the “right” to marry a person of the same gender. Somehow, restricting marriage to heterosexual couples is thought discriminatory.
Is it me, or does anyone else feel like Rip Van Winkle? I feel like someone switched the rules on me while I was asleep for 20 years.

Look at some of what’s going on:

Repeatedly, we see courts handing down decisions affirming the “rights” of homosexuals to marry, adopt children, and other such rights previously reserved for married, heterosexual couples.

Mainline denominations, whose founding fathers stood squarely on biblical, Christian doctrine, find themselves embroiled in debate over homosexuality and the Bible (having left a mainline denomination, one of the things I'm so glad to escape is arguing in church about whether or not something in the Bible is true). So far, only one denomination, the Episcopal Church in America, has gone so far as to (in essence) officially endorse homosexuality in their spiritual leaders. Are more such developments ahead for Christian denominations?

Politicians, for the sake of votes, unashamedly campaign (and win elections) on platforms supporting full homosexual “rights”, including the right to marry.

I could go on, for at many places of work, in public schools and in the media, a drastic (at least for those my age or older) change of attitude in favor of homosexuality has taken place. It would be very easy to criticize and say that people have just lost their minds but, seriously and honestly, I feel something more ominous and dreadful is taking place in our nation (and the Western world, in general): It seems to me that God is withdrawing His hand, in some measure. It seems that we are experiencing what happens when God gives people up to pursue their sinful desires:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools...
"Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their heart to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions...
"And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done... Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:18, 21-22, 24-26, 28, 32 ESV).

Isn't this the point at which we’ve arrived?
To “worldlings”—those who have fully immersed themselves in this culture and its ethos—these changes are wonderful: a sign of progress. But, according to he Bible, their approval of these things is a sign of spiritual blindness and consciences that have been seared (1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Timothy 4:1-2). It is also a sign of judgment (Romans 1:32).

Are we in this country experiencing just a taste of God’s judgment? I don't know, but I can't help but wonder.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Ask in My name"

Have you ever just "messed up"? You know: lost your temper and yelled at the kids, wasted precious time watching some unedifying show on TV, allowed a day (or more) to slip by without spending time alone with God in His word and in prayer. Have you, afterwards, felt (deservedly) guilty and thus found it difficult to pray? Bill Thrasher, a professor at Moody Bible Institute, relates the following story in his book, A Journey to Victorious Praying (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2003), pp. 23-24:
"A pastor told me about a personal experience that has been a great help when I feel inadequate and unworthy of God's blessing as I pray. He said that after a very difficult day he was trying to pray before he went to bed. As he sought God amidst the discouragement of this difficult day, he thought to himself, Would you have any problem praying if you had led somebody to Christ today and had a great time studying the Scripture? He reflected on this thought and responded to himself, No, I would have no problem praying; but this is not the kind of day I had. I have had an awful day that has been characterized by many wrong responses. During this time of seeking God and reading the Scriptures, he related how he sensed a loving rebuke from God as he reflected on praying in Christ's name: "Do you want to come to Me in your name or in Jesus' name?" Only when we learn to pray in Jesus' name can we use our times of feeling unworthy and inadequate and turn them into confident intercession."
Jesus gave this instruction to His disciples (and this includes us): "In that day [i.e., after His resurrection] you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God" (John 16:26-27 ESV).
Dear believer in Christ, if you're feeling discouraged, remember you don't stand before God on your own merit (God knew what kind of scoundrels you and I would be when He saved us!); you stand upon the merit of God's dear Son. You are in Christ. Because you love Christ and believe in Him, the Father loves you.
Don't let your sin keep you away from God. Run to God...and pray in Jesus' name.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A message to Christian parents

I cannot overstress the importance of parents knowing Scripture, knowing doctrine, knowing the gospel and communicating that knowledge to their children. My wife, Catherine, and I have two sons, ages 13 and 10. Just the other day Evan, my oldest, heard someone say that "God doesn't want anyone to go to hell; people choose to go to hell." Thank God, Evan recognized there was something wrong with that statement. He came to me later to ask about it. I pointed him to Jesus' words in Luke 12:
"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell" (Luke 12:4-5 ESV).
Clearly, God the Father does send people to hell. He has the authority to do so. I explained to Evan that man doesn't have to "choose" to go to hell; he's already on his way! I explained that not only does man not "choose" to go to hell (as if there were another alternative), but man is powerless to choose God. I then paraphrased that text from Romans 3:
"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God" (Romans 3:10-11 ESV).
A week or so before that conversation, I was talking to Evan about the gospel, trying to clear up some fuzzy thinking in his 13-year-old head about why Christ died. I was trying to make clear to him that Jesus didn't simply die on the cross because we had sinned, but He died as our substitute--took our sins upon Himself, bearing our penalty. I tried to explain how Jesus' dying would mean nothing to us if it wasn't a substitutionary death. I trust he understood.
The reason I bring this up is because, sadly, these truths are not being taught clearly in all churches, not even "Bible-believing", evangelical churches. That statement my son heard about man "choosing" to go to hell--he heard that in church.
Parents, learn God's word, learn doctrine, learn what the gospel is (and what it ain't!). And then, teach your children. Fathers, you take the lead. You be your children's "Bible answer man".
I grew up in a traditional, mainline Black church. Although I have many fond memories of people and events in church, I didn't hear the gospel at church. Thank God for two old ladies, who never went to high school, basically self-taught in the Word: my great-grandmother and her widowed younger sister, who lived next door to us. They read and studied their Bibles, and taught me the best they knew how. God, in His providence, used them to get the gospel to me and, by His grace, I believed and was saved. In my case, if it had been left up to the church, I'd still be lost.
That's why I can't stress enough: Parents, know God's word and teach your children.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Another great quote

This is a quote from, The Life Of God in the Soul Of Man, by the Rev. Henry Scougal (1650-1678), a treatise that I believe was first published in 1739. John Piper mentions and comments on this passage in his book, The Pleasures of God. This is an excellent word, especially if you are interested in moving forward and growing deeper in your Christian life. I'll let Scougal speak for himself. Read it carefully. Think about it. I believe it's good for what ails us.

"The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love: he who loveth mean and sordid things doth thereby become base and vile; but a noble and well-placed affection doth advance and improve the spirit unto a conformity with the perfections which it loves."

"The true way to improve and ennoble our souls, is, by fixing our love on the divine perfections, that we may have them always before us, and derive an impression of them on ourselves, and 'beholding with open face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory' " [2 Cor. 3:18].

From Henry Scougal, The Life Of God in the Soul Of Man: or the Nature and Excellency of the Christian Religion (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1986), pp. 62, 63.

Let's strive to truly love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matt. 22:37).

Is your child lost?

The most heart-rending words I think I've ever heard from a parent to a child were said by my great-grandmother ("Grandma") to her son, my grandfather ("Daddy"). This was about 25 or so years ago, when I was in high school. Grandma would have been in her mid-80s at that time, and Daddy would have been around 60. I was present because I lived with my great-grandparents, and my grandparents lived on the same street, just 2 1/2 blocks down the street. Daddy, being a very dutiful son, would stop by nearly every evening to visit his mother, step-father and me, his eldest grandchild.
On this particular occasion, I don't remember how they got on the subject, but Daddy and Grandma were talking about the Bible. I remember Daddy was talking about all the errors in the Bible, how the Bible was merely a book written by men, containing all these errors, outmoded rules and regulations, and prejudices against non-Jews. Now, keep in mind, Daddy was a church member--we all were members of the same church--so, it wasn't like Daddy was some non-churchgoing pagan. If anybody had asked him, he would have said he was a Christian.
Grandma tried to explain to Daddy that what he was saying was not right: the Bible was true and we need to read it and follow what it says. Now, I'm a witness that Grandma did practice what she preached. She read her Bible every morning of every day, as far as I know, until the last few months of her life, when she was bed-ridden. One of the dearest memories of my growing up is of Grandma, sitting in that chair in her bedroom or in her chair in the living room, reading a passage from her old King James Version, 1917 edition, Scofield Bible. She didn't just read a favorite Scripture here and there, but read through her Bible in a systematic fashion, from cover to cover. She studied her Bible and, for someone raised in the "country", who never even went to high school, she knew her Bible well. Better than that: she believed what the Bible said. If the Bible said it, that was good enough for her.

Well, Daddy wouldn't hear of it, and continued to bash the Bible. This went on for a short time, until Grandma said pleadingly, almost with tears, "Son, I'm afraid you're goin' to be lost!" With this, Daddy backed off, but Grandma continued. She was genuinely dismayed; she thought she had taught her only son better than that. She said, "If that's what you believe, Son, you're goin' to be lost."

Those words are stuck in my memory. Never before, and never since, have I ever heard a parent express to their child their fear that the child would be eternally lost in such direct terms. Now that I've been a parent for 13 years, I can imagine how painful that was for her to say.
"Son, I'm afraid you're goin' to be lost!"

Was Grandma right in speaking that way? Yes, she was. Unbelief in God's word is simply incompatible with saving faith. How can it be possible to savingly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate word of God, while rejecting as authoritative the written word of God? The Scriptures know nothing of believers who reject God's revelation. You won't find a theologically liberal believer in the Bible. Check it out! If we reject the Scriptures, which testify of Christ, what else is there upon which to base our faith in Christ? There is nothing else! So yes, Grandma was absolutely right to be concerned, and to say so.

Sadly, I believe Grandma was also right about her son's eternal destiny. I preached Daddy's funeral six years ago and, regrettably, I have no reason to believe that my grandfather was truly a believer. First of all, I never knew him to renounce what he said that day when I was in high school. That was the only time I ever heard him say anything about God's word; and then, it was only to express his unbelief. Secondly, although Daddy attended church once or twice a month, said grace over meals at home, and was a "good" man (humanly speaking), I never heard or saw anything that would lead me to believe he loved the Lord Jesus Christ. He loved his family, was kind-hearted, gave freely of his time to his family and friends, but never did he demonstrate a passion for the Lord Jesus Christ. He was proud of the fact that I was a preacher, and I felt I had his support, but never did I hear him just talk about the Lord or about knowing the Lord or receiving Christ or obeying God's word. Nothing. Ever.
A year or less before he died, I gave Daddy a Bible--an NIV Study Bible. I figured it would be easy to read and understand, and it would have notes to help explain the Scripture to him. It was my awkward, feeble attempt to express concern for his soul. I was hoping that he might read the Bible, and that through the word God would say to him what I never had the nerve to say. After Daddy died, while his house was being cleaned out, I came across that Bible. I can't tell you how desperately I searched it, hoping to find just the slightest evidence that he had read something--anything--in it. I saw absolutely no evidence that anyone had ever cracked a page open. God knows all things; He knows the human heart. Nevertheless, like I said, to this day I have no reason to believe that my grandfather ever knew the Lord.

This experience prompts me to ask a question: How many parents today would be willing to say to their errant children, "I'm afraid you're going to be lost"?
I watch people carefully--study them. I've listened to what some parents have said about their children--their behavior, their values, their friends. I work in a public high school. I've watched students I knew or learned attended evangelical (or supposedly evangelical) churches. Sometimes, these students have been no different than the other students, for example, in dress, conduct or language (One girl told me, "Just because you go to church doesn't mean you don't cuss!", as if Christ had no right to clean up her language. I'm reminded of a fight between two girls in class 21 years ago, when I was a student teacher. I knew both girls' families, and knew they both went to church. The "b-word" and other expletives were flying on that occasion.). I wonder...would their parent(s) be willing to say to them, "I'm concerned about your soul; I'm afraid you're going to be lost"?

Grandma used to tell me, "You know, you can love your chil'ren too much." What she was talking about wasn't true love, but this wimpy, milquetoast kind of love that causes some parents to just let their children run all over them, disrespect and abuse them, and the parent does or says nothing to stop it because they "love" their child so much.
Some Christian parents, I think, "love" their children too much, so much so that they believe, contrary to every visible evidence, that their children are saved and on their way to heaven, no matter what. Sure, you have to argue with them to get them to go to church, you suspect they're sneaking around your back doing drugs and/or having sex with their girlfriend/boyfriend, they never read their Bibles (and don't want to, either), they've gone away to college and stopped going to church at all, they've just come out of the "closet" as a homosexual/lesbian--you name it--but because they prayed the "sinner's prayer" in AWANA when they were 5 years old, you're convinced they're Christians.
"If anyone [and that includes your son or daughter] is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). There must be some evidence! O parents! Don't assume your childrens' salvation simply because they go to church and are active in the youth group. And, for heaven's sake, don't rest easy just because they repeated a prayer when they were very young. Look for present evidence of the life of Christ in their souls. Look for evidence of a love for Christ. Look for evidence of the fear of God (and I would think the "fear of God" should include submission to the word of God).
Here's something I recommend: Pray for your children's salvation...in their presence. Let them hear you pray for their soul. Let them know you're concerned about their souls.
Pray that God would cause them to desire Him.
Pray that God would give them a hunger for Him.
Pray that God would cause them to seek Him (and that God would allow Himself to be found by them).
Pray that God would cause them to be born again.
And then, question your children about their walk with God. Ask them what they understand about the Bible, about Christ, about the Gospel. Search for proof that Christ resides within. Look for the evidence.
I'll never forget that moment, over 25 years ago, when I heard a grieved elderly mother say to her senior citizen son, "Son, I'm afraid you're goin' to be lost." She loved her son enough (and, more importantly, loved God enough) to be concerned for his soul.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dr. Sam Storms on the gift of tongues

Let me state, for the record, although I am solidly evangelical and Reformed in theology, I am absolutely not a cessationist. I do not find convincing evidence in Scripture for the position and, really, see no practical difference between a cessationist saying, "God no longer operates in that way" and a theological liberal saying, "That teaching of the Bible is no longer relevant for us today". It seems to me to be just another form of unbelief.

Anyway, I came across this reflection on the gift of tongues by Dr. Sam Storms over at Enjoying God Ministries. Dr. Storms is a decidedly Reformed Theologian who also happens to be a charismatic. Read what he has to say, and be like those believers at Berea: examine the Scriptures to see if these things which Dr. Storms writes are so (Acts 17:11).

At some later date, I'll have some more to say about this. But, if you have time, leave a comment. I'd like to know what you think.

A great quote

A great quote from an early bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Would that the current leaders of the denomination still believed this:
“An individual man or woman must never follow conviction in regard to moral, religious, civil, or political questions until they are first tested by the unerring word of God. If a conviction infringes upon the written word of God, or in any manner conflicts with that word, the conviction is not to be followed. It is our duty to abandon it. Moreover, I will add that light on a doubtful conviction is not to be sought for in the conscience, but in the Bible. The conscience, like the conviction, may be blind, erroneous, misled, or perverted; therefore it is not always a safe guide. The only safe guide for a man or woman, young or old, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, priest or people is the Bible, the whole Bible, nothing but the Bible.”

Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne (1811-1893),
From his memoirs, Recollections of Seventy Years (pp. 233-234), written in 1888.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

In defense of "getting happy"

I came across an interesting post at Scotty Williams' blog, Réformateur Créole Noir, that caught my eye. It's title was, "Despiritualizing Shouting in the Black Church". I recommend you read it, especially if you, like me, grew up in the traditional Black Church.

I'll admit it: I'm very sentimental. My wife, Catherine, laughs at me, because I can be so sentimental about...anything! I have especially strong feelings about the Black Church and the sights and sounds of the church of my childhood, especially the phenomenon of people "getting happy".
If you grew up in a traditional Black church--whether Baptist, Pentecostal ("Sanctified") or Methodist (A.M.E., C.M.E., or A.M.E. Zion)--you know what "getting happy" is all about. For the uninitiated, to "get happy" is to be so overcome with emotion in church that you can no longer contain yourself. Some people will shout, some scream, others will jump and dance, still others will walk or run. The expressions of religious emotion are as varied as the individuals so moved.

I well remember how, when I was a young child (I'm thinking 35-38 years ago), some people in our AME Church (and we AMEs were supposed to be pretty stiff, compared to the Baptists and "Sanctified" churches), they would holler and shout: "Thank you, Jesus!", "Hallelujah!", "Praise His name!".
Our choir director, on occasion, after leading the choir in some rousing old gospel selection, would seat the choir and, before she could get back to her own seat, would let loose with a piercing scream (it always startled me). Apparently, she couldn't take it no more and just had to let it out! (You will pardon my grammar, won't you?)

One dear lady had her own way of "shouting": she would jump up, spin around, fall back down in her seat and rapidly and alternately stamp her feet on the floor (kind of like running in place), then jump back up and spin some more, fall back down and stamp her feet, etc. All the while she would be shouting, "Hallelujah!" This would go on until she got it out of her system.

Another sweet old lady (she was in her 80s by this time) would "get happy", it seemed, most Sundays. I remember, she would holler, "Thank you, Jesus!", cry and get red in the face (she was a fair-skinned black woman). What fascinated me about her was that she had a skinny left arm and a fat right arm (Many years before she had a mastectomy which had the unfortunate side effect of permanently swelling that arm with lymph fluid)! Well, she'd be waving that skinny arm and that fat arm, and people on either side would be ducking those arms! Then again, she might rear back on the pew so that people behind her had to watch out for those arms, too! At that age, it was all a fascinating spectacle for me.
The question now arises, was all this wrong? Was this merely emotionalism, something totally inappropriate for God-honoring worship? I think Scotty Williams gives an excellent answer, but I'd like to put in my two cents, also.
Back then, when I would ask "Grandma" (my great-grandmother), "What was wrong with Mrs. So-and-so?" Grandma would tell me, "It's the Holy Ghost." Well, judging from what I would see on Sunday morning, I thought the Holy Ghost was pretty spooky! Apparently, "it" just took over people and made them do and say the things I saw them do and say.
Now, decades later, having experienced the New Birth, and knowing what it feels like to actually want to shout (I'll admit it, I have wished I could be so free, so unselfconscious, so uninhibited that I could outwardly and unashamedly express what I've at times felt in worship), and from years of just observing "my folks" (Blacks) in church, I think I can say that shouting or "getting happy" has nothing to do with the Holy Ghost/Spirit taking over people. The emotional expressions I observed were just that: expressions of human emotion. Shouting is simply an emotional and human response to some kind of stimulus.
The crucial question is: What is the stimulus that motivates and moves us emotionally in worship? I would agree with Williams that, for some, emotional release becomes an end in itself. I would also add that for some "up front" people (preachers, singers and musicians, particularly), stirring up emotional responses from the audience is their goal. When emotional response becomes the goal of "worship", I think we have the wrong motivation and risk making an idol of emotion.
However, I feel the opposite extreme is wrong also. Cold, sterile, purely cerebral, emotionless worship is God-dishonoring. Borrowing from Jonathan Edwards, I do not understand how we can worship God and not feel emotional sometimes. I do not see how we can be dispassionate about our God and Savior, how we can be dispassionate about "so great salvation". When I think of the lost condition I was in, how God chose me in Christ before the foundation of the world, that He knew me before I was born, drew me unto Himself, caused me to be born again, put His Spirit within me, regards me as complete in Christ, no condemnation, kept by His power, working all things together for my good, and that one day I'll see Him face to face, be fully conformed to the likeness of His Son, and be with Him forever...! I can't be emotionless about that!
Now, I know not everyone's wired the same, we don't all feel and express our emotions the same way or to the same degree, but I have to agree with the ol' folks: "I wouldn't have religion I couldn't feel sometime!"
That's why we need to check our motives. What moves us emotionally? It should be the truth about God, whether preached or sung or thought about that moves us emotionally (Have you ever just thought about some truth from God's word, and felt like shouting, "Hallelujah!"?). That truth is to be found in God's word--the Scriptures--and (here is where the Holy Spirit comes in) it is the Holy Spirit, working through that word, who changes our life.
You see, it's not a Hammond organ or a tambourine, but a holy life that should accompany a holy dance.
So, what about those folk who used to "get happy" in my home church so many years ago (they're all deceased now, by the way)? I don't know if they were motivated by the truth of God's word or a well-sung phrase from the choir. I hope their motives were pure. I hope I will meet them in heaven. God knows.
However, I can make sure my motives are God-honoring. I can make sure that when I teach and preach the word, I give the people some truth that they can shout about. I can make sure that when I sing a song or lead a choir or congregation in song that the song is in line with the truth as revealed in God's word.
I still think it's a beautiful scene when that lame man in Acts 3, after being healed, "entered the temple...walking and leaping and praising God" (Acts 3:8). Would that all God's people felt that kind of liberty.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Welcome to my blog! To know a little bit about who I am, please read "About Me".
As far as the name of this blog, "A Debtor to Mercy" is from a hymn by the 18th century Anglican minister, Augustus Toplady (1740-1778):
A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on,
My person and offering to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Savior's obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which His goodness began,
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is yea and amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Nor all things below nor above,
Can make Him His purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from His love.

My name, from the palms of His hands,
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on His heart, it remains
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is given;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heaven.
Amen! That's where my confidence lies: in "my Savior's obedience and blood."
Well, I have to say, this blogging stuff is entirely new to me. However, I also see this as an opportunity filled with great potential for the glory of God. There is so much that I believe God is teaching me right now (and so much that I want to say about so many things, particularly as it concerns the Body of Christ in this world), that I want to share with others. What better way to "put it out there" than to publish it on a blog? At the very least, I can spare my wife having to listen to my ramblings every single day, every morning and evening.
It's taken me quite a while tonight just to get this thing set up, so I'll have to put off writing until later. Hopefully, this weekend there will be something here. Right now, I just need to get some sleep!