Learning to Trust

Remember when you first learned to swim? As a father of five, I’ve spent my share of time at the pool beckoning my children to jump in. I would re-assure them each time. “Jump in! Daddy’s got you. I won’t let anything happen.” And, eventually (and sometimes after much coercion) they would jump in. And like most fathers do, depending on the child, his temperament, and/or his capability, I would challenge them differently.

In my Christian walk, I’ve found that particular portrait—a loving father calling his child to jump in and trust him—to be very meaningful. In many ways, I see so much of my relationship with my heavenly Father in that light.

But much in the same way that my sons express their frustration that I treat one of their brothers (or their sister) differently than I do them, in my own moments of difficulty, I find that the Lord tends to treat his children differently as well.

For some, he never lets their heads go underwater. He calls them and they jump as best they can, reaching out for him and he catches them. Then, they splash the water and complain a little because the water got in their eyes and their goggles didn’t stay up.

For others, however, he does that thing where we jump in and swim and swim and he just keeps backing up!, all-the-while saying, “You’ve got this, champ! Just keep kicking.” But he doesn’t ever actually reach out and grab us until we’ve swallowed half of the pool and have begun to sink to the bottom.

I’ve seen the Lord handle other brothers and sisters in Christ like I might handle my younger boys. There’s never a doubt that they are safe and secure in his hands. Even when they hit the water, their splash is tempered by his catch.

My experience, however, has been much more like the second example. When he says “jump,” it doesn’t take me long to get airborne. But as my arms grow weary from swimming and I can’t kick my legs hard enough to remain afloat, I find myself reaching out with sheer desperation. And then, without warning, at just the right moment, he steps in and takes hold of me.

And each time I think of my experience in that light, a few points come to mind.

Just jump!

However you may envision the future—however you may think the Lord is going to respond to your faith—whether you believe he’s going to catch you before you even touch the water or if you think he’s going to keep back up—if he calls you to jump, the only proper response is to get off of the ground.

We have all had those moments when we have known with complete certainty that God has called us to something that required his intervention to succeed. It may have been a ministry initiative. It may have been a church revitalization effort. It may have been as simple as a gospel encounter. When he calls us to jump, our task is not to calculate the distance and wind speed. Our task is simple—get airborne.

Just swim!

Once you take that initial step of faith and dive in, he may catch you. And in that moment, you experience the wonderful sense of his care. But he might not catch you immediately. He might allow you to hit the water—even to go under for a brief moment—and you might surface looking for his hands.

Start swimming. Look for his face and move in that direction. The Christian life was never intended to be “easy like Sunday morning.” Paul described it as labor—even describing his own work as a struggle. Concluding his letter to the churches in Galatia, he encouraged them to “not grow weary” in their striving (Gal 6:9). Contrary to what some may believe, effort is not at odds with grace.

Even in your striving, he still watches over you.

Trust him in the air and trust him in the water

When calls us to jump out toward him and our feet leave the deck, it demonstrates our faith. When we hit the water and he seems to be backing away, our swimming once again demonstrates our faith. In either scenario, our heavenly Father is watching over us.

But, lest we forget, fathers do not call children to jump out to them for the sake of catching them, or even for the sake of not catching them and watching them struggle in the water. Two reasons come to mind:

  1. To teach children to swim.
  2. To teach children to trust.

Today, you may find yourself at the edge of the pool and you know beyond a doubt that he is calling you to jump. Stop running the calculations in your mind. If he’s calling, jump.

You may find yourself airborne in this very moment. He’s called you to do something and you’ve taken the first steps of obedience. You’ve leapt into the air. Trust that he’s going to catch you.

Or, you may be swimming at this very moment. Your eyes have grown wide because you still don’t sense his hands. Your heart has begun to race because, in that brief moment of panic, you begin to think your trust may have been misplaced.

It isn’t.

At just the right time, he’ll grab you. And he’ll lift you up. And all your effort—all your striving—all your labor—will have been worth it because you’ll be safe and secure in his hands.

Keep swimming.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Re-Surrendering to Ministry

I remember sitting in the auditorium among a few hundred other college students who had surrendered to the ministry. The professor onstage told us to look around—to the people next to us. He wasn’t trying to dissuade us from our calling, but told us that the statistics said that 3 out of 4 of us would not retire in the ministry.

I remember the faces of the guys around me.

I remember discussing with them how unbelievable those numbers were—how surely we would be the exception.

And then, over the course of years, I saw friend-after-friend walk away from the ministry. Some lasted years; some less. Many of them still play important roles in their churches, but they’re not serving in full-time, vocational ministry as they had once committed themselves. (And while there’s an entire post to be written concerning the positive manner in which they continue to serve in a number of capacities, this is not that post.) They had made an initial commitment, but for whatever reason, were unable to fulfill that calling.

In light of the number of pastors and ministers stepping away from pulpits around the nation due to moral failures (and before you fire off that email, I am not equating one leaving the ministry with a moral failure), it seems reasonable to believe those statistics have only worsened.

But, in a sense, I think this is the result of only surrendering to the ministry once.

Hear me out. However difficult it may be to make that initial decision—however much wrestling was involved in your call to the ministry—that was the easy part. Whether you left a lucrative role in the business world or stepped into ministry fresh out of college, the decision to lay down your desires and embrace God’s calling for your life was the easy part.

The Scale of Small Decisions

Big decisions are often like that. Deciding to be something or do something begins with that initial move, but the hardest part comes with the hundreds of smaller, daily decisions that follow.

This is why every January millions upon millions make the commitment to lose weight. Having worked at a gym, I can tell you that January is unlike any other month in the fitness industry. People join the gym in droves, waiting lines form behind treadmills, every aerobics and spin class is filled to capacity. But those crowds dissipate in the weeks to follow and disappear within a month. Why? Because the initial decision is so much easier than the daily decision.

It’s one thing to surrender to the ministry; it’s quite another to re-surrender to the ministry every day—to wake up each Monday and, despite the events of the previous day, make the decision to continue serving this particular flock in this particular place.

But that daily-discipline—that habitual laying down of your will, of crucifying your flesh (Gal 5:13), that taking up your cross every day (Lk 9:23)—is necessary for enduring in our calling.

Each time I hear that another pastor has stepped away from the ministry and every time that I learn of another moral failure, I grieve. But I’m not foolish enough to believe that their departure began on the day the announcement was made. Their departure from the service of the Lord took place over the course of many days, one after another, during which they refused to surrender themselves and give themselves over to their calling.

I don’t know what you’re facing in ministry at this moment in time. I don’t know what struggles or difficulties—what hurts or pains—you might be facing. But my encouragement is to find someone to talk to. It can be another pastor or a trusted friend, but talk to someone; share your struggles. Because just as our church members often put off seeking help until they’re well-down the path of sin, many of us do the same with our hurts.

Find someone who will help you surrender to the ministry again . . . and again . . . and again until you hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

What made David Brainerd stand out?

Introduction to his Life

In the late Spring of 1747, Jonathan Edwards welcomed a terribly sick young missionary by the name of David Brainerd into his home. The young man was dying of tuberculosis—a disease that plagued Brainerd’s life and ministry for seven years until finally taking it on 9 October 1747. Edwards recalled that he found Brainerd to be, “remarkably sociable, pleasant, and entertaining in his conversation; yet solid, savory, spiritual, and very profitable.”

Years earlier, a controversy had been brewing in New England as the result of the Great Awakening. Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches had experienced significant differences of opinion concerning revivalistic preachers such as George Whitefield and the new converts resulting from their ministry. Those clinging to a more traditional faith looked with contempt upon those who were emphasizing excitement and emotional responses to the revivals taking place. In 1741, Edwards was invited to give the commencement address at Yale College in the hopes that he would chide the excitable student body and support the more conservative faculty. Instead, Edwards’s sermon, “The Distinguishing Marks of a Word of a Spirit of God,” defended the legitimacy of the Great Awakening and produced greater fervor and excitement among the student population.

Young David Brainerd was in the crowd as Edwards spoke and, though he ranked at the top of his class, he was expelled shortly thereafter for making a disparaging remark regarding one of the tutors. This expulsion radically altered the trajectory of Brainerd’s life, since in that day no one could be installed as a pastor in Connecticut unless they had graduated from Harvard, Yale, or a European University.

Brainerd was a devout, pietistic young man who, due to his expulsion from Yale, was no longer able to achieve the end to which he believed God had called him—to faithfully serve as a pastor. The faculty at Yale were unwilling to reinstate him, but he was charged by the Society in Scotland for Propogating Christian Knowledge to become a missionary to the American Indians in New England.

He served for a total of four years in three different places, experiencing the full spectrum of emotions as he saw seasons of openness and resistance to the gospel. And after the most fruitful season of his ministry, he began to succumb to the tuberculosis that had plagued his life; so he traveled to New England where he hoped to recover his health in order to return to those he affectionately deemed to be “his” Indians. Rather than recover, Brainerd was diagnosed as terminal and was nursed by Edwards’s daughter, Jerusha, until he passed into his eternal inheritance.

Though Brainerd only lived to see his twenty-ninth birthday, Edwards saw fit to edit and publish his diary and journal to the public. In doing so, an obscure missionary that few would have ever been aware of has become a pivotal example in piety, devotion, self-sacrifice, and perseverance to generations.

But what made Brainerd stand out for Edwards? What makes his ministry stand out today?

An Honest View of Self

Beneath Brainerd’s missionary efforts lay a gut-wrenching, honest appraisal of his own relationship with God. Upon reading his diary and journal, one may be struck by Brainerd’s lack of missionary zeal early in his ministry. He seems much more content to study, pray, and repent than to actually share the gospel with the indians in his care. One reason for this appearance is that Brainerd wrote his journal for public consumption (to be published by the Society in Scotland for Propogating Christian Knowledge), while his diary was written for the sake of his personal self-examination and to measure his spiritual growth. So, while his journal contains stories of preaching and conversions, his diary is full of self-introspection. This ongoing self-appraisal, and constant reminder of his own need for God’s sovereign goodness, provided the ballast he needed in order to effectively minister to others.

A High View of Preaching

One must not read Brainerd’s Life and Diary and not take note of the means by which he shared the gospel with the American Indians. He preached whenever he could find a hearer, but was convinced that, “only [God] can open the ear, engage the attention, and incline the heart of poor benighted, prejudiced pagans to receive instruction.” Brainerd understood that the Sovereign God works through the human preacher—leading Brainerd to herald the message of the gospel of Christ through an interpreter (who became the first to be baptized during Brainerd’s missionary endeavors).

A High View of Baptism

It is also noteworthy that Brainerd did not baptize new believers upon conversion, but instead, “deferred their baptism for many weeks after they had given evidences of having passed a great change.” Brainerd was not too quick to encourage new believers to enter into the baptismal waters, but first insisted upon observing the change in their lives as a result of the gospel. In doing so, he emphasized the weighty-witness that baptism is to believers and non-believers alike.

Conclusion

Brainerd’s ministry to the American Indians pales in comparison to the impact his life and sacrifice have made upon generations since his death. Yet, as one notes his intense self-introspection, the emphasis he placed upon gospel proclamation, and the weight he ascribed to the ordinance of baptism, one cannot help but turn the question toward our own efforts today.

Do we regularly seek examine our own walk with Christ? Do we value and lift high the proclamation of the gospel? Do we believe that the ordinances of the church really mean something?


Jonathan Edwards, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Let’s Talk about the Pastor and Alcohol

Any discussion of alcohol among those submitted to Scripture must begin with an acknowledgement of the sin of drunkenness. In Romans, Paul urges his readers to “walk with decency, as in the daylight,” which he contrasts with “carousing and drunkenness” (Rom 13:13). In Galatians, drunkenness included in Paul’s list of works of the flesh alongside “sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy . . . [and] carousing” (Gal 5:20–21a). These are the works of those, who according to Paul “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21b). Further, Peter assumes such behavior to be beneath believers, listing drunkenness as one of the behaviors of those apart from God. “They are surprised,” he writes,” that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of wild living” (1 Pet 4:4).

In light of such passages, any attempt to discern a biblical position on the use of alcohol must begin with a common understanding concerning drunkenness. Only then can the discussion move forward concerning the use of alcohol. Whereas some advocate that believers abstain completely, others argue that the use of alcohol is permissible in moderation. Sadly, the conversation on this topic rarely resembles a fraternal discussion and often devolves into ad hominem attacks, overstatement, and misunderstandings.

Many preachers of abstinence are incorrect in their assertions that οἶνος (oinos) in the New Testament always refers to unfermented grape juice rather than wine (the more common translation, by far). In John’s account of Jesus’s turning the water into wine (John 2:1–11), one notes that the chief servant stood in astonishment that, unlike most parties where more-intoxicating wine is served initially and replaced with wine of lesser value, the wine which Jesus had created was contrasted with this and was considered “fine wine.” Further, in the account of the Day of Pentecost, Luke writes that the scoffers who heard the disciples accused them of having been “full of new wine” (Acts 2:13). It hardly seems likely that they would have accused the disciples of being intoxicated if new wine in the New Testament period referred to unfermented grape juice.

Also, one must note that the prophets and apostles imbibed without reluctance with the condition that drunkenness was avoided. However, it is incorrect to argue that Scripture does not include any restrictions concerning alcohol. Those who were wholly separated for God and performed a Nazarite vow were prohibited from any use of wine whatsoever (Num 6:3; Judg 13:4–7, 13–14). Further, Paul instructs the Ephesians to “be filled by the Spirit,” in contrast to getting “drunk with wine” (Eph 5:18). While noting that the restriction is against drunkenness, the discerning readers should note Paul’s juxtaposition of becoming intoxicated with wine and being filled by the Spirit. Is it possible to pursue both? Or does the active pursuit of the one negate any pursuit of the other?

In 1 Timothy 3, Paul writes that an overseer (or elder/pastor) must be “above reproach” and “not addicted to wine.” Deacons, likewise, must be “not drinking a lot of wine.” Once again, often these passages are interpreted according to the presuppositions of the reader. Those advocating for abstinence interpret each as restricting alcoholic consumption entirely and those advocating for the use of alcohol in moderation focus on “not addicted” and “not . . . a lot.” Moreover, in the very same letter, Paul instructs young Timothy to “use a little wine because of [his] stomach and [his] frequent illnesses” (1 Tim 5:23). However, one observes, this is clearly a medicinal use of wine and not merely a recommendation for Timothy to come home at the end of the day, pop-a-top, and put his feet up.

How, then, does one move forward in discerning God’s will for his life concerning alcohol? Further, how should churches handle the use of alcohol among their members and leaders?

Among church members, there should be freedom of conscience (Rom 14:1–23). In light of the biblical text, drunkenness should be condemned and declared a sin. Those who fall under habitual drunkenness should be disciplined in accordance with Matthew 18. The responsible use of alcohol in moderation, however, should be allowed among church members.

Among church leaders, however, one should note that Paul was not hesitant to establish a higher standard of living for those in positions of authority over the congregation. In his teaching that overseers should be above reproach, Paul provides a helpful aid in understanding his other admonitions. The descriptor “above reproach” literally means that accusations against an overseer should have nothing to stick to. Anyone attempting to take hold of him in order to make an accusation should find no handle to take hold of. One is reminded of Paul’s instruction elsewhere to “Stay away from every kind of evil,” or, as the KJV reads, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22).

The easiest path for a church leader to be above reproach in terms of alcohol is simply to abstain entirely. (NOTE: This was the point of Sean’s post earlier this week reflecting on the Kavanaugh hearing.) If an elder or pastor (or deacon) chooses not to use alcohol in any sense, any accusation of drunkenness or sin has no evidence or support. This position is strengthened as one considers the words of Paul to the church in Corinth: “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is helpful” (1 Cor 6:11).

The question church leaders must ask of themselves is that of value: do the benefits of the use of alcohol outweigh the potential negatives of doing so? In light of this question, many will discern that, while Scripture is devoid of any definite mandate of abstinence from alcohol, wisdom dictates that one commit himself to abstinence nonetheless. In doing so, one may avoid the pitfalls of misinterpreting Scripture while also pursuing God’s wisdom for Christian living.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Toleration? Or Free Exercise? George Mason Redivivus

American history buffs are already aware that Thomas Jefferson, when writing the Declaration of Independence, was influenced heavily and a drew from the pre-existing Virginia Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason and approved by the Virginia Convention of Delegates in June 1776. Interestingly, it was also a source document and inspiration for James Madison’s Bill of Rights and Lafayette’s French Declaration of the Rights of Man.

In the 16th article, Mason wrote initially, “that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.” This, Madison could not, for lack of a better word, tolerate. He led the charge in altering the document to read, “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience.”

Which raises the obvious questions. Does it matter? If so, what difference does it make?

For Madison, the edit made every difference. The very idea of toleration belonged to a system of government that had embraced a state church—liberty of conscience was a thing granted; it was allowed. But it could just as easily be disallowed. The notion of toleration is predicated upon a governing standard of religion that granted permission to dissidents.

Ensuring the free exercise of religion, then, meant that liberty of conscience was not a thing granted, but rather a thing recognized; it was a right that must not be infringed.

Students of Baptist history may recognize Madison’s concern. His friend and Baptist minister, John Leland, shared this point of emphasis and seems to have influenced Madison’s thinking on the subject.

Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for, is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration, is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest, to grant indulgence; whereas, all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.

Our current society really doesn’t know what to do with freedom of conscience. We’ve had previous administrations and present judiciaries trample all over it, emphasizing their defense of freedom of worship. That is to say, they were prepared to defend the right of the people to worship in their churches and houses of worship in whatever manner they saw fit. But those who dare to take those same convictions into the public sphere—cake bakeries, for instance—have stepped over the line from the realm of the defensible to that worthy of prosecution.

And why?

Because we, as a nation, have traded free exercise for toleration.

The spirit of George Mason has returned and we have reversed Madison’s edit without even the intellectual integrity to strike out the words on the document.

And the rights of all people—Christians and Jews, Muslims and Mormons, pantheists and atheists—suffer as the result. The state has determined that our liberty of conscience is no longer a right to be protected. Instead, it is a grace that has been extended to us. And they get to tell us just how far it extends.

Perhaps the time has come for another Leland or another Madison to step forward.

Source: John Leland, “The Excess of Civil Power Exploded,” in The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, Including Some Events in his Life, Written by Himself, with Additional Sketches, &c. by Miss L. F. Greene, Lanesboro, Mass. (n.p., New York, 1845), 118.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Observations on Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars

The post is a follow-up to my post of Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars. In that post, I offered a brief history of Pearce’s life and quoted a tract written for the Lascars—a predominantly-Muslim class of sailors from India. In this post, I would like to make a few observations—two positive and two more critical.

Pearce was Passionate about Extending the Gospel Offer to the Lost.

Pearce’s heart was touched by the plight of the Lascars. Not only were these men far from home and in a foreign land, but more importantly, they were ignorant of the love of Jesus Christ. Pearce expressed that the Lascars were not invisible to him, but that they were in his thoughts; their situation brought him to tears and put him on his knees in prayer. There is no hesitation in Pearce’s offering of the gospel to the Lacars, many (if not most) of whom were Muslim. The Lascars were of a different skin tone and worldview than Pearce . . . and they were in England. Pearce did not need to go to them, they had come to him! Pearce believed that these were men whom Christ loved; Pearce believed that these were men for whom Christ died. As such, they were men whom Pearce loved and men with whom Pearce was obligated to share the gospel.

There is a subtle missiological point to be identified here. The love of Christ for the Lascars is that which incited such love in the heart of Pearce—that he believed Christ died for them (an unlimited provision of the atonement), inspired Pearce’s obligation to offer the hope of the gospel.

Let that sit and stew for a bit, Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike. His theology drove his practice. And just as importantly, his practice shed light on his theology.

After giving it some thought, I wonder at times if we do not take the opposite approach. There is a tendency in the human heart to limit the love of God to those we find acceptable—to those we deem worthy of love. Those who dismiss the practice of sharing the gospel with those one does not know necessarily, but rather contend that believers should share the gospel only in the context of a relationship reverse Pearce’s pattern, albeit unknowingly. We may preach of God’s love for all people, but if we only offer Christ to those with whom we’ve built relationships, perhaps our practice speaks of a different gospel.

Imagine the difference it would make in our own day and our own culture if every believer cared for the lost in the same manner as Pearce. Imagine the difference it might make if every time we laid eyes on another human being, we saw them as objects of God’s affection and those with whom we are obligated to share the gospel.

Pearce Spoke and Thought Biblically.

Notice how replete the tract is with biblical passages and allusions. Pearce is so immersed in Scripture that it flows from his pen as naturally as his own thought. Yet this is no mere repetition of verses from memory. Pearce may begin with a prayer “to the great Allah,” but he moves forward to explain the truth of Jesus Christ. He speaks of the Incarnation of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, and the suffering and sacrifice of Christ.

Imagine the difference it would make in our own day and culture if we were so immersed in Scripture that God’s Word pours forth from our mouths and our pens (keyboards?) regularly, and not only when we are sitting in Sunday School. Imagine how our evangelistic efforts would be affected if, rather than sharing four spiritual laws or a series of verses from memory believers were so saturated in God’s Word that they could share the hope of Christ without being dependent upon an Evangelistic campaign or program.

However, the Tract is Void of Any Reference to the Resurrection and Reign of Christ.

This stands out as one of the few negative observations I discovered when reading the tract. As previously mentioned, he speaks of the Incarnation of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, and the suffering and sacrifice of Christ, but nowhere does Pearce establish Christ as having been risen, and nowhere does Pearce present Christ as reigning as the King of Creation. This is not a harmless oversight on Pearce’s part. I do not believe he had any malicious intent in this omission, but the resurrection and reign of Christ are not minor components of a dry doctrine. They are, rather, the very source and substance of our hope!

Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 5:17). The resurrection of Christ and his present reign give substance and meaning to his death and burial. He has conquered sin! He has defeated death! He was not crushed under the weight of the sins of humanity, but bore the penalty of sin, suffered death on our behalf, and yet lives. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. This matters. This matters in every context wherein we share the gospel. And it is a shame that Pearce’s otherwise exemplary tract neglects these emphases.

We Must Be Very Cautious in Adopting Any Use of the Name of Allah.

He writes that many “pray to the great Allah for you.” While some modern missiologists are comfortable invoking the name of Allah in the same way that we would use the term, “god” when not necessarily referring to “God,” others have made the point that doing so enables the hearer to import his own thoughts and conceptions of Allah into the discussion. Pearce does not linger on any thought of Allah, but rather moves directly to the discussion of the person of Christ Jesus. But does his introduction imply that he worships the same God as the Lascars, but with a different view of Jesus?

Allah is not the same as the God the Father. Their natures are entirely different. The manner in which the two are described are entirely different. Their characters are entirely different. Pearce did not worship Allah any more than the Lascars already worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his attempt to contextualize his gospel message, he opened the door for misunderstanding.

As believers seek to offer the hope of eternal life, we must strive for clarity concerning the character and nature of God. We must work to dispel any false notion or understanding of who Jesus is. The gospel we offer is inclusive in that Jesus Christ has given himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6), but it is exclusive in that no one comes to the Father, except by the Son (John 14:6).

Samuel Pearce is an admirable figure from one of the brightest eras in our Baptist heritage. His passion for the lost, his zeal for the gospel, his saturation with the Word of God are all to be commended to modern believers. And yet, as this tract attests, his model was not without flaw.

This is the great lesson of history—even our heroes were flawed and in need of grace. Learning that lesson and implementing it into our lives will help each of us become better at reading and appreciating history, but perhaps more importantly, it will help us grow in patience and kindness toward one another.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars

Samuel Pearce participated alongside men such as Andrew Fuller, William Carey, and John Sutcliff in the inception of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), which launched the modern missions movement. Pearce’s passion for and commitment to missions established him as a gifted spokesman and fundraiser for the cause. Carey was the first to go, but Pearce’s desire was to join him in India. It was his giftedness at raising funds that prompted the BMS to restrain him from going. Andrew Fuller, the Secretary of the group, was suffering an illness that paralyzed a part of his face, and they feared that Pearce may be required to succeed Fuller in his role.

Pearce’s longing for the mission-field—to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who had never heard—never relented. So he poured himself into the effort to promote the cause at home while also searching out those in need of hearing the Gospel.

He became burdened for the Lascars—Indian sailors who had been employed on European ships since the sixteenth century who were treated little-better than slaves. His biographer writes, “to others they were nothings, but to Pearce they were brother-men for whom Christ died” (190). So Pearce wrote a tract in the hopes of “lead[ing] them out of the poor cold twilight of Mohammed into the sunshine of the face of Jesus Christ” (190). He wrote the tract in English, and his friend William Carey—the missionary to India and gifted linguist—translated it into the Lascar language.

The tract is quoted here as abridged in the book. In an upcoming post, I will offer several of my observations regarding Pearce’s tract. But first, read the tract and comment below.

What stands out to you?

Lascars!

You are far from home, and in a country of strangers! Most of the Europeans whom you have been wont to observe have perhaps exhibited a desire for nothing but gain or honour or personal indulgence; but you know not all; in this strange land there are many who think of you, weep over you, and pray to the great Allah for you. . . . Hear, then, the heavenly message. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” This great Gift of God to us and for us is Jesus Christ. You, perhaps, have been taught that this Jesus was only a prophet, like Moses, and could do no more for you; but you have been misled. The Jewish prophets plainly foretold that He was to be a Divine Saviour. . . . This blessed Saviour, for the great love He bore to us from before the foundation of the world, at length clothed Himself in our nature, and became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. . . . When He grew up to manhood, because He preached so faithfully against men’s wicked practices, they continually watched him to find some evil, of which they might accuse Him; yet they could find none. Twice did the Holy Father give notice of His dignity by proclaiming from heaven, “This is my Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him.” In His own omnipotent goodness He raised men to life from death and the grave, and daily employed Himself in healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people, without a single failure. . . . But the remission of our sins cost Him most grievous sufferings; for nothing less than His precious Blood was sufficient for our Redemption. Yet so much was His heart set upon our salvation, that he was content to undergo the severest torments, and to die the most shameful and cruel death, rather than we should be lost. This, Lascars, is the blessed News! These are the glad tidings of great joy which must be preached to all people, and which the God of Heaven now sends to you.

Jesus shed His blood for Jews, and there were thousands of the posterity of Abraham, who believed in His Name, and loved Him till they died. Jesus died for Gentiles also. He died for us, and since we knew His love, our hearts have been drawn to love Him in return. Jesus died for Lascars! Jesus suffered tortures for Lascars!

O Lascars, have you no love for Jesus? Long indeed you have been ignorant of our Saviour; but now God has made sailors of you, and sent you to England, that you might no longer be unacquainted with Jesus. Oh, how great the privilege that you hear His blessed Name, and are taught His great salvation! Lascars! receive into your hearts this Word of Life: give thanks to God that you are not suffered to perish for want of a Saviour. Put your trust in the Almighty Jesus, and yield yourselves to Him as living sacrifices: then shall you have the witness in yourselves that He is the Son of God; for you will find such peace, such joy, such delight in God, such desires after purity, such love to our Saviour, and to all who love Him too, of every country and of every colour, as will assure your hearts more strongly than all the force of argument that the religion of Jesus came from heaven, and that it leads thither every soul who sincerely embraces it.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

When the Words Just Won’t Come

Have you ever had that terrifying moment? You sit down with the need to put pen to paper words on the screen and you draw a blank. The issue at hand isn’t that you have nothing to say. Not at all. The problem is you can’t focus your thoughts on just one.

Your head is teeming with thoughts, but nothing that will endure long enough to work through. Like a mirage of an oasis in the desert, one appears, but fades away as soon as you try to grasp it.

There are only a few occupations/professions/vocations that experience the pressure of that moment. Generally, people view artists as frustratingly-unwilling to be bound by time and space, working only when inspired. Authors are depicted in film as being almost painstakingly reticent to sit down at the typewriter or keyboard until that moment when everything makes sense in their heads and then the full-length manuscript appears overnight.

And while I would not ever argue that the work of the artist or of the author are meaningless, the weight of their responsibilities pales in comparison to that of the preacher.

He is charged with bringing forth the Word of God.

He is tasked with the responsibility of breaking open the Bread of Life and offering it to his congregation piece-by-piece. And each week, he sits down in his study, opens his Bible, and pulls up a blank page on his computer. And after a few minutes, while he knows that the blinking cursor on the blank page is nothing more than a decision a programmer made decades ago, it begins to feel as though it were mocking him—counting down the time until he stands before the people of God once more.

Perhaps he has good reason to be stuck. Perhaps this week’s text is a story that he knows that many in his congregation have heard since their time in the church nursery, such as the story of Noah, or David and Goliath, or Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Maybe, it’s a narrative passage of Scripture that he is resisting the urge to squeeze a moral lesson or allegory from. Or, the passage could pertain to a difficult subject that he knows will result in a few angry emails at the very least.

Maybe it’s something else, though. His church could be walking through a difficult period of time. The words don’t always flow to the page when the church sanctuary is used for a funeral during the week, or when a particular point of disputation arises at each congregational gathering.

In that moment—sitting in his study, staring at the mocking cursor—what do you do when you have nothing to say?

Before answering, let me first acknowledge that I don’t have the answers as to what you should do; no one does. Your experience is your experience, but I can offer you what I have found to be helpful for me.

Pray

Come on, preacher. Did you expect that not to top the list? Take your concern and your frustration to the Father and ask him to give you clarity of thought. Ask him to impress a message for his people—after all, they’re his people. Ask him to remove anything from your heart and from your thoughts that is blocking his Word from giving words to you.

Related to that, being stuck in sermon preparation is not necessarily due to sin, but it could be. Search your heart and confess any sins to the Father. Perhaps your heart was that which was blocking the words.

Read Scripture

Now, I know you’re thinking. “Read Scripture?! My Bible is open!” I know. But remember the first thing we were all told when we began preaching: Don’t confuse your sermon preparation and study with your personal devotions and quiet time? That’s what I’m talking about.

Read Scripture.

Read your passage one more time, but then turn the page to another passage that you’re not intending to preach. If you’re preaching through Galatians, turn to the Old Testament. If you’re preaching through one of the Gospels, turn to the Old Testament or to one of Paul’s epistles.

Get away from the passage that you’re breaking down semantically and read broadly—chapters, perhaps even books, at a time. Why? Because you need to step back from sermon preparation and fill your heart and mind with the Word of God. I can’t count the number of times that God has, in this process, impressed something upon me that I wasn’t expecting.

Read Fiction

After spending time in prayer and reading broadly in God’s Word, if the words still aren’t coming, it’s time to get extreme. It’s time to break away from the forced study. (Of course, I’m assuming you’re preparing your sermon long-before Saturday night. If I’m wrong, well, that’s an entirely different post.) Grab a work of fiction.

Those who know me well might accuse me of hypocrisy on this, because I’m notoriously impatient when it comes to fiction. I’m not the whimsical type. I prefer serious study on serious things. But, as my friends who are more inclined toward reading fantasy and fiction remind me, it’s important to let your imagination run—to give it room to breathe and explore. Perhaps your mind just needs to be stretched a little.

Get Out of the Study

One of the lessons that I’m trying to learn these days is that there’s no such thing as saving time. I don’t save time by skipping a meal or hurrying through a task. No matter how much time I try to save, the time ticks away. Despite my best efforts, the second hand on my watch never stops moving. And if you can’t save time, the best you can do is maximize it. Use it for something.

Sitting and staring at the cursor is not going to put words on the page. Getting anxious and worked up over it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. The time ticks away and you’re not drafting a sermon as it does. You’re not actually doing anything but getting angry. So get out of the study.

You’ve prayed and sought the face of the Lord. You’ve read broadly in Scripture. You’ve even picked up your favorite copy of Tolkien or Lewis (good, approved Christian fiction) and thumbed through a few pages. But the words still aren’t coming.

Go play with your kids.

Go drink coffee with your wife.

Go for a run or a workout.

Go watch a mindless movie with lots of explosions.

Get out of the study and let your mind relax.

Write Now; Edit Later

Now, this particular point doesn’t come in succession as the others had. And while it’s not a method I recommend for sermon preparation, it’s the exact method I’ve recommended to doctoral students working on a dissertation.

Put words on the page.

They don’t have to be good. They don’t have to be well-constructed. They don’t have to flow. But put words on the page. When your mind is working at a more efficient rate, you’ll be able to piece those thoughts together and edit them into a comprehensive whole, but for the time being, put something on the page. In actually sitting down and writing, you’ll begin to discover that the words begin to flow more freely the more you write.

Writing begets writing.

So write now right now. (I’ve just wanted an excuse to write that sentence.)

Don’t be afraid to write something that you don’t use. Just write it down and clean it up after the fact.

Maybe you’ve never experienced this terrifying moment. Maybe it’s just me (which would give credence to my greatest fear. Super). Or maybe it’s more common than any of us want to acknowledge.

What do you do when the words just won’t come?

Drop a comment below or hit me up on Twitter and let me know.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Let’s Talk about Guarding the Purity of Church Membership

A 1993 study (holy cow! can that really be 25 years ago!) by the Home Mission Board (now termed, North American Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention found that in that year, the majority (60%) of adult baptisms in Southern Baptist churches could be termed rebaptisms. While some were legitimately the baptism of those previously baptized as infants in other denominations, 36% of these adult baptisms were of people who had been previously baptized in Southern Baptist Churches! In fact, when asked why they sought rebaptism, many said that it was due to having not been regenerate believers when they were baptized the first time. (See Phillip B. Jones et al., A Study of Adults Baptized in Southern Baptist Churches, 1993 [Atlanta: Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1995], 5).

These numbers led theologian John Hammett to conclude, “Either these individuals were unusually deceptive or . . . some churches and pastors baptized these individuals without clear assurance that they were baptizing believers” (John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005], 112).

While no pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention would celebrate the discovery that he is unintentionally baptizing unregenerate people into the membership of the church, discerning the best manner in which to prevent such practices is difficult. Some pastors will opt to provide classes for those who respond to the gospel in their churches. This practice has historical precedent as far as the second century. Others see the narrative in Acts as determinative and regard it their responsibility to baptize as soon as possible after each profession of faith.

However a given pastor chooses to move forward, I offer these points to consider as they strive to protect the purity of church membership.

1. Offer a clear gospel presentation

We get excited to see someone respond to the gospel—we should! Scripture is clear that the angels in heaven rejoice with us. But sometimes even in my own ministry, I’ve seen people respond more to what they heard than to what I thought I said. So whenever someone responds to the gospel after a service, I ask them to explain the gospel to me. Do they understand Jesus’s Divinity? Do they understand his real death? Do they understand the reality of his bodily resurrection? Do they understand that they bring nothing to their salvation apart from the sin that makes it necessary? I want clear confidence in these things before moving forward.

*A note about children
Children of believers often demonstrate faith at early ages—this should not surprise us. Those raised in a home that opens the Word of God together, pray together, and go to church together should demonstrate faith early. But when they do, I look for a legitimate definition of sin. Do they understand sin? Even more importantly, are they convicted of their sin?

2. Provide a clear description of baptism

Baptism is the first step in obedience to the commands of Christ. Baptism is the means by which a person joins the local church. Baptism is dying to oneself and identifying completely with the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism is not “sealing the deal” of salvation, nor is it the literal washing of sins. Counsel new believers to be baptized, but be especially sure that they understand exactly what it does and does not mean.

3. Explain church membership

Many pastors require premarital counseling before committing to officiate a wedding. (If you don’t, you should. We’ll have to talk about that another time.) It’s critical that expectations are laid out and that someone lead the prospective bride and groom to consider questions that may have been overlooked in the dating process. Whenever counseling someone before they join the local church, a similar process needs to take place.

Provide a safe place for them to ask questions about the church. Explain to them how joining a local church is different from joining a civic club or society. Explain how church membership is pledging one’s self to the health of the body. Explain what expectations exist for members of the local church. Explain the church covenant that lays out for them exactly what is expected of them.

4. Explain the church’s confession of faith

It is virtually impossible for a church to be healthy without a confession of faith. It does not need to be overly strict; in fact, many Southern Baptist churches simply opt for the Baptist Faith and Message. Without a confession of faith, however, there is no doctrinal line to discern who does and does not belong. There is no standard to which pastors and teachers are called to adhere. Anyone considering joining your fellowship needs to understand what the church believes.

5. Practice church discipline

For some, points 1–4 were sufficient. No one likes church discipline. And yet, unlike a new member’s class or catechumenism (the state of a person undergoing doctrinal instruction and testing before baptism), church discipline is clearly taught in Scripture. In Matthew 18, Jesus provides a means by which the church is to guard the purity of its membership.

If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.
Matthew 18:15–20 (CSB)

Notice that goal of church discipline is not the removal of a believer from fellowship. Rather, the goal is that he would receive correction, repent, and be restored to the fellowship. Church discipline is the recognition that when someone refuses to acknowledge his sin and repent, he has hardened his heart against God. By removing him from fellowship, he will either demonstrate repentance and return, or he will continue to harden his heart and distance himself from the gathering of believers.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I don’t have all of the answers. If we’re being honest, none of us do. We’re all trying to live in light of our understanding of God’s Word. None of us, however, would be thrilled to learn that we have unwittingly been baptizing unbelievers and offering them an assurance of salvation.

So, if not these, what steps have you taken?

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Ministering through the Muck

A pastor’s job is not one that would generally make anyone’s list of most difficult professions (unless the person making the list were a pastor or a pastor’s wife). We’ve all heard the dismissive comments about how nice it must be to only have to work one hour each week. And, if we’re being frank, more pastors fit this sad perception than we’d like to admit.

It’s not that we only work one hour per week—me genoito! (there’s a super-nerdy Greek joke for you)—but if the ministry survival rate means anything, at the very least it means that there are many who understand the pastorate in such a way as to believe that anyone could do it, only to then discover the foolishness of such thinking. For too many, the pastorate is seen as a introvert’s dream career—a quiet, secluded, air-conditioned desk job that requires very little heavy lifting apart from old, dusty books in order to prepare a thirty-minute lecture each week about how everyone else is wrong.

But that make-believe world gets shattered into pieces once ministry begins. Ministry is messy. Even the best weeks require hard work and grit and discipline. Even the best weeks demand that we say “No” to certain opportunities in order to maximize our time and fulfill our vocation. But during those weeks, we get to see lives changed by the very gospel we preach, we get to hear stories of our church members leading others to Christ, we get to experience the Body of Christ caring for one another.

Other weeks—tough weeks—we experience the muck. That family that you thought was rock solid and you were planning to invite them to lead a small group? It turns out that they’re on the brink of divorce. That person that you’ve been counseling each week, patiently removing barrier after barrier between them and Christ, learns of the hatred of some other believers and decides that the way of Christ isn’t the path he desires. That new Christian stumbles . . . in a massive way. Your family needs more of your attention than usual. And to top it all off, you have no idea what to preach on Sunday and your prayers seem to bounce off of the ceiling.

What then?

How do you minister through the muck?

Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23–24


Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord.
Ephesians 6:5–8

Whatever is happening down in the muddy trenches of ministry, it is imperative that we remember that we are not serving ourselves, nor are we merely serving our church members; we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. And every activity we undertake, every ounce of effort we apply, has a singular telos—the glory of God. And in my experience, when the muck seems the deepest and the work seems the hardest, it comes as the result of my believing that the results of my efforts—and not the efforts themselves—are that which bring him glory. I mistakenly believe that I have to get it done to honor Christ.

And that simply isn’t true.

The results of our efforts rest in his hands. Why else would we ask him to bless our efforts? Why else do we come to him in prayer, asking that he give us success? Is it not because we know that, ultimately, the results are his arena?

So how do we minister through the muck?

We work to the glory of God and trust him with the results.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.