Friday, May 30, 2008

Banner (Final Thoughts)

We completed day three at the Banner Conference yesterday and made the trip back to C-ville.
Final day reflections:

The 9:00 am session with Richard Phillips was on Hebrews 13:9-14, "Outside the Camp." He stressed 13:10: "We have an altar…." Early Christians focused on Christ. He made the good point that throughout Hebrews the author might have made appeal to the Lord’s Supper as a Christian version of the OT sacrificial system but instead he merely appeals to Christ. He does not put forward a sacerdotal view of the sacraments but points to Christ.

The 10:45 am session with Ian Hamilton was on "The Minister’s Character" (Isaiah 42:1-4). He noted that preaching is the overflow of a life. It cannot rise above the man. M’Cheyne: "Do not forget the culture of the inner man."

In Isaiah 42:1-4 Jesus is put forward as the prototypical servant. Hamilton noted the three-fold "Behold" (Isa 41:24, 29; 42:29) which culminates, "Behold, my servant…."

He offer four application "Beholds":

1. Behold his complete dependence on God.
2. Behold his unyielding faithfulness to God (esp. v. 4).
3. Behold his personal humility before God (v. 2).
4. Behold his grace that magnifies God.
"Let it be said of our churches that we welcome sinners."

At the lunch break, Howard and I sat at table with Iain Murray.

At 1:30 pm there was a "Preaching Panel" with all the speakers.

Each speaker was asked to list his top five books. A sampling:

Craig Troxel suggested:

1. Calvin, Institutes
2. Sibbes, Bruised Reed
3. Bavinck, Doctrine of God
4. Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
5. Berkhof, History of Christian Doctrine

Ian Hamilton:

1. Calvin, Institutes
2. Owen, Complete Works (esp. volumes 2, 3, 6)
3. Chrysostom, On the Priesthood
4. Marsden, Edwards Biography

Ian Murray:

1. M’Cheyne, Memoirs and Remains
2. Calvin, Institutes
3. Edwards, Works, vol. 1
4. Murray, Romans
5. Lloyd-Jones, Sermon on the Mount
6. Spurgeon, Autobiography, vol. 1

Best books to give a non-believer:
Campbell: Ultimate Questions; Troxel: Lion, Witch, Wardrobe; Murray suggested a good Christian biography.

How to spend time reading: Hamilton suggested heavy works in the morning and lighter later in the day. Murray repeated the need for keeping notes in your books (in pencil!) and indexing at the back of the book for future reference.

Discussion on the value of preaching with or without notes. Ian Murray stressed the need for a "skeleton." He noted Lloyd-Jones said the words were secondary to the thoughts.

Aside note: Murray several times expressed his dislike for preaching through a book. He argued that this was a novel approach in the history of preaching. When someone mentioned preaching from Amos he admonished preachers not to try preaching through such a book unless they are exceptionally gifted!

Should every sermon mention Christ and the gospel?

The panel seemed in agreement that as long as the gospel is being regularly proclaimed that explicit reference to the cross need not be in every message. Preachers should be guided by the text. Congregations need the whole counsel of God.

Another aside: Regarding maturity in ministry, Murray said an old deacon once told him: "You can’t put an old head on young shoulders."

We missed the last session by David Campbell on "Reaching the Lost" so as to make it home in a timely manner.

The Banner Conference was very good. Messiah is a perfect place to hold such a meeting. All the attendees are on campus and share meals together. In addition to good preaching, hymn singing, and an excellent bookstore, the best part of the meeting was fellowship in free times with brother pastors.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Banner (Day Two)

Day two started with morning prayer from 8:15-8:45 am. Great to hear brother Pastors pouring out their hearts in prayer.

The 9:00 am session speaker was Richard Philips, Senior Minister of Second Presbyterian in Greenville, SC on "The Perfect Sacrifice" (Hebrews 7:26-28). He contrasted the work of the human high priest who relied on external adornment (priestly robes) but lacked the requisite holiness. He asked, "Where is the true Priest?" and pointed to Christ as the only holy, innocent, and unstained Priest (v. 26).

The 10:45 am speaker was Ian Hamilton of Cambridge Presbyterian of Cambridge, England. His was a very experimental word for Pastors. His text was the doxology of Romans 11:33-36 and his theme, "The Minister's Calling."

His points:

1. Our preaching must pulse with the note of breathless wonder (see v. 33: "O, the depths....).

Paul was not just captured by grace but captivated by it. We do not manufacture doxology. The gospel is not a chunk of Calvinistic facts. Our presentation of the gospel is not to be "clinical," "mechanical" or "metalic." God's grace is a not a mere demarcating Shibboleth but a heart-stopping wonder.

2. Our preaching must have a grace-constrained humility (vv. 33-34).

We must not be "theological know-it-alls," but we must be humbled before the Lord. We need a spirit of "humble gravity." This is counter to the modern stress on "relaxed informality." In past days, evangelicals confessed a Big God and a little man. Today it is a Big Man and a little god.

3. We must sound a note of "exultant adoration" (v. 36).

We must express "a doxological confession of faith." This is the terminus ad quem of the gospel of grace. Hamilton shared that he saw this most in his pastoral mentor, James Philips. he noted that Philips was a shy man who even had trouble communicating at times. Once his mentor asked a group of 5-6 year olds in a Children's sermon, "Children, what's wrong with Britain today?" He then answered his own query, "Moral and spiritual declension!" Despite his shortcomings, however, Philips knew about exultant adoration.

We had lunch with Presbyterian brothers from South Carolina and a Baptists bother from PA.

The 3:30 pm session was with David Campbell of Grace Baptist Church of Carlisle, PA on "Feeing the Sheep" from Titus 2:1-3:2. He reminded us that we preach each Lord's Day to two groups of people, the saved and the unsaved, and stressed our duty to feed the saved.

We had supper with a table of all Baptists, including three brothers from NC.

The evening session (7:00 pm) was Iain Murray on "Our Present Needs." They are:

1. Our need for less self-confidence.

2. Our need for persevering faith.

3. Our need for increased faith in God's goodness and love.

4. Our need for guidance in the best use of our time.

This included six points for young men:

(1). Take regular time out to look at your life;
(2). Watch your own temperament (if you like to study, go visit; if you like to be around people, you probably need to study more);
(3). Read the best and only the best (with pencil [or some way to take notes and retrieve what you read and study] in hand);
(4). Don't let the internet control your priorities;
(5). Avoid losing time on controversies;
(6). Sometimes it is best if you do not see in your churches what you cannot change.

5. Our need not to stop hoping and praying for revival.


Banner of Truth Conference 2008

I am at the Banner of Truth Conference being held at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. As I was telling a friend yesterday, this is the first real Pastors' Conference (outside denominational ones--like at the SBC meeting and the Evangelical Forum) that I have attended.
Messiah is a simple campus in a pastoral setting just outside Harrisburg, PA. It took Howard A., my fellow traveler, and I about 4 hours to get here by car from C-ville. There are a couple of hundred men here for the Conference. At registration we got a free book (W. B. Sprague's Lectures of Revivals) and a sport shirt. These are annual perks (only the giveaway book title and the shirt color change!). The plenary meetings are held in the campus chapel. The congregational singing of hymns is ringing!
In the first session at 3:30 pm, Iain Murray preached on John 21:18-19, 22. He has such a natural, relaxed, but compelling delivery. On thing he pointed out I had not pondered was that the Lord's prediction of Peter's martyrdom ("but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not" [v. 18]) was given to Peter as a word of assurance that he would remain faithful. If he knew he would die a martyr, he at least had assurance that he would not ultimately deny the Lord again.
After the supper break, Craig Troxel of Bethel Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, IL preached a message titled "Fan the Flame" from 2 Timothy 1:6. His four point outline:
1. The gift: Any gifts we have (like preaching/teaching) from God are simply a manifestation of his grace.
2. Fanning the gift: We must continually work at improving our gifts. Even those with excellent gifting can become lax. We are committed to "reformed and always reforming" not the status quo.
3. The gift of the Holy Spirit: We must realize our complete dependence on the Spirit (2 Tim 1:7). Troxel did a masterful job of exposing pride in preachers, telling a great illustration of a time when he lost his voice while preaching, humbling his pride in his abilities.
4. The gift of Christ's ministry: Despite our weaknesses, Christ will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax (Matt 12:20).
This was a very encouraging message for preachers.
After the second session, newcomers to the conference were invited to the book room where Iain Murray did a walk around the room and impromptu talk on various books (offering discounts along the way). Apparently this also is a tradition usually done by Sinclair Ferguson with Murray substituting in his absence. It was hard for Murray not to recommend every book in the room. A few (of many) comments:
-If you had to pick one Lloyd-Jones book try Knowing the Times.
-His biography of John Murray is the only book of his that he says folk tell him they cry over.
-The best book on the Great Awakening is still Tracy's.
-A man in Edinburgh once wrote the evangelical library in London asking for a book by Finney. Instead they sent him a volume from Flavel's Complete Works and it changed his life.
-Reading the first volume of Spurgeon's autobiography (which he prefers to volume 2) will keep you up till late in the night.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kept in Perfect Peace

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (Isaiah 26:3 AV).

"For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it" (Isaiah 28:20 AV).

"There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked" (Isaiah 48:22 AV).

"There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked" (Isaiah 57:21 AV).

How does a person experience peace in his life? How does he have peace of mind and heart? How does he have peace in his family? How does he reach a point where he feels content with what he has, how he earns his bread, and who he knows?

There are many people looking for peace. They will read self-help books, try yoga or Eastern meditation, do drugs or alcohol. Some believe they will have peace if only they can find the right husband or wife (after they divorce the old one), get the right job, earn the right degree, or move to the right location.

I love the picture of discontent that the prophet Isaiah paints in Isaiah 28:20. He desctibes a man trying to rest on a bed that is too short while he tries to wrap himself up in a blanket that is too small. Worldly attempts to gain peace are the short bed and the narrow blanket. Jude compares the man without the Lord as like "raging waves of the sea" and "wandering stars" (v. 13).

The Scriptures provide a solution. One finds peace (the Hebrew word is shalom) only by having your mind stayed upon the Lord. He grants perfect peace to him who trusts wholly in the Lord. We are not at peace in life till we are at peace with God. We are not at peace with God till we are at peace with Christ. As Paul said, "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Once in Christ we have contentment despite external circumstances. So, Paul can write from prison, "for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11). May we find such peace in Christ alone.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article May 26, 2008.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Guidelines for the Prayer Meeting

Texts: Mark 9:28-29; John 15:7; Acts 2:42; 4:23-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:17

We have our prayer meetings at JPBC during Sunday evening worship. Last Sunday, I offered a few practical suggestions for prayer meetings. Here are my abbreviated notes:

1. Be prepared.

The Coast Guard motto is semper paratus, always prepared. This should be our attitude when we know we are going to a prayer meeting. We should give some thought ahead of time as to what would be worthy and appropriate to pray about.

2. Be bold.

Be ready to plunge into the fray at the first opportunity. Do not succumb to the false notion, "I need not bother, because someone else will do it."

Remember that prayer is not going on merely when you speak. You are listening to the prayers of your brothers and sisters. You are praying alongside them. In quiet moments, you are silently praying.

3. Be Biblical.

Prayer is not just making requests. Remember the acrostic ACTS in prayer:


Be brief and specific (see Matt 6:5-8).

Be personal and natural. We should not take on an affected voice. Use your natural speaking voice. The tone, however, should reflect reverence.

Avoid rote phrases and jargon (e.g., "God bless all the missionaries"). We can learn to pray by reading the prayers of the Bible, including especially the psalms.

It is good to salt our prayers with Scripture, but we should also remember that prayer is not Scripture memory recitation. Use the reservoir of God’s word that you have hidden in your heart to season your prayer conversation.

We should also remember that prayers are not times for preaching or doctrinal teaching. We are speaking primarily to God and not to man.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: Evangel article, 5/21/08

More Challenges to the ESV

The English Standard Version appears to be overtaking the New International Version as the translation of choice among Reformed evangelicals. I made previous reference to Theodore Letis' critique of the ESV (here).
Some other critiques are popping up on sermonaudio:
Bob Brown of the Reformed Baptist Church of Lousiville offers a review of ESV literary stylist Leland Ryken's book The Word of God in English and the ESV here.
John Thackway has a thoughtful critique of the ESV on the Trinitarian Bible Society site here.
"Christian Agrarian" Howard King has a more acerbic critique of the ESV here and a better talk on "Why We Need a Standard English Version" here.
The Trinitarian Bible Society also has a nice pdf article on "What Every Christian Needs to Know About the ESV" here.
Grace and peace, JTR

Friday, May 16, 2008

M'Cheyne Reflections

From Andrew Bonar’s biography of M’Cheyne (Banner of Truth, [1844] 1960):

"He used to rise at six on the Sabbath mornin’, and go to bed at twelve at night, for he said he (liked) to have the whole day alone with God."

When asked if he was afraid of "running short of sermons" he replied, "No; I am just an interpreter of Scripture in my sermons; and when the Bible runs dry, then I shall."

"At Kelso, some will long remember his remarks in visiting a little girl, to whom he said, ‘Christ gives last knocks. When your heart becomes hard and careless, then fear lest Christ may have given a last knock.’"

"He used to say, ‘Ministers are but the pole; it is to the brazen serpent you are to look."

"In his letters are expressions such as these: ‘I often pray, Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be made.’"

"He used himself to say, ‘Live so as to be missed;’ and none saw the tears that were shed over his death would have doubted that his own life had been what he recommended to others. He had not completed more than twenty-nine years when God took him."


The Sound Your Hear...

A friend who is a Yale grad sent me this article about the new "master" (resident faculty advisor) at the Yale college named after Jonathan Edwards. The sound you hear is Edwards turning over in his grave.

A Promise to Tempted Saints

"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13 AV).

This verse has provided much comfort to believers suffering trials and temptations down through the ages. Here are a few points to ponder:

1. Temptations, trials, and suffering are not exceptional in the experience of believers. If you are struggling with a besetting sin, with doubt, with despair, you should not think that yours is some exceptional case that no one has ever faced before. Your struggle may not be as unique as you might think. The things that come upon us are "common to man."

2. Just because we are in Christ, this does not mean that we will never face serious hardships. Faith in Christ is not a "Get out of Temptation Free" card. In fact, we may face trials precisely because we are in Christ.

3. Our ability to persevere in the midst of trials is not dependent on our inner composure or strength of character but on God Himself. Meditate on the phrase, "but God is faithful."

4. Sometimes this verse is misinterpreted as saying, "God will not put more on us than we can handle." In fact, this is not exactly correct. A terminal illness, for example, is, in reality, more than we can handle. The promise is that we will not be tempted above what we are able, without also being provided "a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it." He does not offer us immunity from difficulties beyond our ability to cope, but he offers us the resources to persevere. What are those resources, the ways of escape? At the top of the list, naturally, would be our faith in Christ. Among our resources to stand up under trials are prayer, the encouragement of Scripture, and a church body that suffers and rejoices with us (1 Corinthians 12:26). Even in the face of death, a believer still has hope. Not hope in himself, but hope in the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

I heard a Pastor friend of mine say recently that a big reason we gather as the church in worship, prayer, and Bible Study is for the purpose of preparation. We are making ourselves spiritually ready to stand up under trials when they come. Not "if" they come but "when" they come. I might not be facing cancer, or death, or depression at the moment, but at some point I likely will.

Let us cling to this promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 and be encouraged by it as so many saints before us have been.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article 5/15/08

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Exposition of Jude: Part 9 of 25

This occasional, verse by verse exposition of Jude began last year. You can read previous posts under the label "Jude Exposition" below.

Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" (Jude 1:9 NKJV).

This is one of the most disputed verses in the book of Jude. The author is continuing the theme of warning against false teachers. He is presenting an example for the faithful to follow in contending with these evil men.

The verse is noteworthy for the mention of Michael (the name in Hebrew means, "Who is like God?"). He is an "archangel." This implies that there is some ordering of the angels. Michael is mentioned in the book of Daniel as "one of the chief princes" (see Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1). In Revelation 12:7 there is a description of "war in heaven" between "Michael and his angels" and "the dragon and his angels." Jude 1:6 mentions rebellious angels "who did not keep their proper domain." Michael is apparently numbered with those who gladly accept their domain and faithfully serve the Lord. We get some limited insights here into the created order of angels, but we should be careful not to speculate or go "beyond what is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6). Our focus is on the Lord and not angels (cf. Revelation 19:10; 22:9).

This verse is also noteworthy for its allusion to an event that has no explicit description in Scripture. The reference is to some dispute in the spiritual realm between Michael (God’s messenger) and the devil after the death of Moses (i. e., "when he disputed about the body of Moses"). There is a reference to such a conflict in an extra-Biblical Jewish work titled The Assumption of Moses.

This is where dispute over this verse arises. Some have attacked Jude’s place in the canon for this reference. This is misguided. The Biblical writers often make use of references and illustrations from books outside the Bible. In Acts 17:28 and Titus 1:12, for example, Paul quotes the pagan poet Epimenides. In making use of uninspired writings the Biblical authors are not vouching for the validity of those works. They are simply using them to make their inspired points.

Jude’s desire is to illustrate the proper attitude of the faithful in responding to false teachers. Even Michael when confronting as diabolical a figure as the devil himself, did not denounce him in his own power. Instead, he made his appeal to a sovereign God, saying, "The Lord rebuke you!" When we face false teachers, we should trust the Lord of all the earth to do right in the end. He will rebuke those who oppose him.

  • How is Michael an example for the church in dealing with false teachers?

  • Why would it be unfruitful for believers to spend too much time focusing on the doctrine of angels?

  • Explain why Jude and other inspired books of Scripture are able to make use of uninspired writings without compromising their integrity.

  • Do you trust that God will, in the end, sovereignly judge evil doers (cf. Romans 12:9)?


Thursday, May 01, 2008

2008 Evangel Forum Speakers Announced

I am pleased to announce that we have secured our speakers for the 2008 Evangelical Forum which will be held Friday-Saturday, September 26-27, 2008 at JPBC.

Our two plenary speakers will be:

Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr., President and Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina (picture left).
Dr. Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (picture right).
The theme this year will focus on the Doctrine of God, as presented in article two of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), "Of God and Of the Holy Trinity."
As you might very well imagine, we are thrilled to be able to have two men of the caliber of Dr. Pipa and Dr. Ware address our Forum. Make plans now to attend.