Thursday, January 29, 2009

Artusio Fan Club

Photo: Danny Artusio during a match.
The Cavalier Daily had a nice article on JPBCers Danny and Kyle Artusio yesterday. These are indeed two fine young men. My daughters have also enjoyed having them as their Sunday School teachers this year.

Evaluating and Avoiding "The Shack"

I was talking with some new attendees at JPBC the other day who were interested in pursuing membership in our body, and I was asking about how they came to be drawn to our church. They responded, "Well, you're just about the only church we attended that wasn't doing some kind of study on The Shack."
If you're not familiar with the book, you can read this extensive review by Tim Challies. Or watch these video blogs (The Shack: The Negatives; and The Shack: The Positive) by David Murray of Puritan Seminary.


Book Recommendation: "Among the Hidden"

One of our family's New Year's resolutions was to spend more time reading aloud to each other after supper. We just finished reading Margaret Peterson Haddix's Among the Hidden (Aladdin, 1998). This is a really compelling story. The children (not to mention the adults) were hooked.
Among the Hidden is set in a future totalitarian society which was undergone famine and civil unrest leading to an authoritarian government. Families are limited to two children and the law is ruthlessly enforced by the Population Police. The main character is a boy named Luke who is a "third child" forced to live in hiding. Not only is it a great story, but it got our family talking about things like government, citizenship, freedom, etc.
The book is the first in Haddix's seven part "Shadow Children Series." Next up: Among the Imposters.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I cannot slip through his fingers because I am one of his fingers

John 10:29: My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.

1 Corinthians 12:27: Now you are the body of Christ and members individually.

I recently read this account (in Joel Beeke, Living for God’s Glory, p. 117):

The great Scottish preacher Ebenezer Erskine (1680-1754) once visited a woman on her death bed and lovingly tested her readiness for heaven. When she assured him that she was ready to depart and be with Christ because she was in that hand from which no one could pluck her, Erskine asked, "But are you not afraid that you will slip through His fingers in the end?"

"That is impossible because of what you have always told us," she said.

"And what is that?" he asked.

"That we are united to Him, and so we are part of His body. I cannot slip through His fingers because I am one of His fingers. Besides, Christ has paid too high a price for my redemption to leave me in Satan’s hand. If I were to be lost, He would lose more than I; I would lose my salvation, but He would lose His glory, because one of His sheep would be lost."

May all those who are in Christ share in this assurance of our salvation.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: Evangel article 1.27.09.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Were we admitted into the presence of a king...

Do you ever find worship boring? Sermons tedious? Prayer monotonous? Have you ever considered this a sympton of sin?
In his discussion of man's present condition in Human Nature In Its Fourfold State (Banner, 1964), Thoms Boston (1676-1732) observes that "Man's understanding is naturally overhwhelmed with gross darkness in spiritual things" (p. 81).
He proceeds to offer numerous proofs for this. Included in these is proof number four: "What a difficult task is it to detain the carnal mind before the Lord!" (p. 88). He concludes this proof: "Were we admitted into the presence of a king to petition for our lives, we should be in no hazard of gazing through the chambers of presence" (p. 89).
How would it change our interest in worship and spiritual things if we thought of ourselves as being brought before the King to petition for our lives?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Many a groan is heard from a sick bed

In his classic work, Human Nature In Its Fourfold State, Thomas Boston describes the Christian's struggle with sin:
Many a groan is heard from a sick bed, but never from a grave. In the saint, as in the sick man, there is a mighty struggle; life and death striving for the mastery: but in the natural man, as in the dead corpse, there is no noise, because death bears full away.
Our struggle with sin, in fact, gives us assurance that we are indeed saved. We are like sick men, getting better, and not dead men.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Prayer for President Obama

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, posted this prayer for President Obama on his blog today:
Our Father, Lord of all creation, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: We pray today with a sense of special urgency and responsibility. We come before you to pray for our new President, Barack Obama, and for all those in this new administration who now assume roles of such high responsibility.

We know that you and you alone are sovereign; that you rule over all, and that you alone are able to keep and defend us. We know that our times are in your hands, and that "the king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord" [Proverbs 21:1]. Our confidence is in you and in you alone. We come before you as a people who acknowledge our constant need for your provision, wisdom, and protection.

Father, we pray today for Barack Obama as he takes office as President of the United States. We pray that you will show the glory of your name in our times and in these days, confounding the wisdom of the wise, thwarting the plans of the arrogant, and vindicating those who do justice and practice righteousness.

Father, we pray with thanksgiving for the gift of government and the grace of civic order. Thank you for giving us rulers and for knowing our need for laws and ordered life together. Thank you for this nation and the blessings we know as its citizens. Thank you for freedoms unprecedented in human history. We understand that these freedoms come with unprecedented opportunities.

Lord, we pray with thanksgiving for the joy and celebration reflected on millions of faces who never expected to look to the President of the United States and see a person who looks like themselves. Father, thank you for preserving this nation to the moment when an African-American citizen will take the oath of office and become our President. Thank you for the hope this has given to so many, the pride emerging in hearts that had known no such hope, and the pride that comes to a people who have experienced such pain at the hands of fellow citizens, simply because of the color of their skin. Father, we rejoice in every elderly face that reflects such long-sought satisfaction and in every young face that expresses such unrestrained joy. May this become an open door for a vision of race and human dignity that reflects your glory in our differences, and not our corruption of your gift.

Father, protect this president, we pray. We pray that you will surround this president and his family, along with all our leaders, with your protection and sustenance. May he be protected from evil acts and evil intentions, and may his family be protected from all evil and harm.

We pray that the Obama family will be drawn together as they move into the White House, and that they will know great joy in their family life. We are thankful for the example Barack and Michelle Obama have set as parents. Father, protect those precious girls in every way -- including the protection of their hearts as they see their father often criticized and as he is away from them on business of state. May their years in the White House bring them all even closer together.

Father, we pray for the safety and security of this nation, even as our new president settles into his role as Commander in Chief. We know that you and you alone can be our defense. We do not place our trust in horses or chariots, and we pray that you will give this president wisdom as he fulfills this vital responsibility.

Father, grant him wisdom in every dimension of his vast responsibility. Grant him wisdom to deal with a global financial crisis and with the swirling complex of vexing problems and challenges at home and abroad. May he inspire this nation to a higher vision for our common life together, to a higher standard of justice, righteousness, unity, and the tasks of citizenship.

Father, we pray that you will change this president's heart and mind on issues of urgent concern. We are so thankful for his gifts and talents, for his intellect and power of influence. Father, bend his heart to see the dignity and sanctity of every single human life, from the moment of conception until natural death.
Father, lead him to see abortion, not as a matter of misconstrued rights, but as a murderous violation of the right to life. May he come to see every aborted life as a violation of human dignity and every abortion as an abhorrent blight upon this nation's moral witness. May he pledge himself to protect every human life at every stage of development. He has declared himself as an energetic defender of abortion rights, and we fear that his election will lead directly to the deaths of countless unborn human beings. Protect us from this unspeakable evil, we pray. Most urgently, we pray that you will bring the reign of abortion to an end, even as you are the defender of the defenseless.

Father, may this new president see that human dignity is undermined when human embryos are destroyed in the name of medical progress, and may he see marriage as an institution that is vital to the very survival of civilization. May he protect all that is right and good. Father, change his heart where it must be changed, and give him resolve where his heart is right before you.
Father, when we face hard days ahead—when we find ourselves required by conscience to oppose this president within the bounds of our roles as citizens—may we be granted your guidance to do so with a proper spirit, with a proper demeanor, and with persuasive arguments. May we learn anew how to confront without demonizing, and to oppose without abandoning hope.

Father, we are aware that our future is in your hands, and we are fully aware that you and you alone will judge the nations. Much responsibility is now invested in President Barack Obama, and much will be required. May we, as Christian citizens, also fulfill what you would require of us. Even as we pray for you to protect this president and change his heart, we also pray that your church will be protected and that you will conform our hearts to your perfect will.

Father, we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, the ever-reigning once and future King, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He and he alone can save, and his kingdom is forever. Above all, may your great name be praised. Amen.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The 1919 Statement of Belief

Baptist Studies Online is a new website. Their purpose:
Baptist Studies Online (BSO) is a website dedicated to the study of Baptist history and thought, with special emphasis on Baptists in North America. The purpose of BSO is to facilitate the scholarly study of Baptists by making available to researchers and students an online journal, a primary source library, a comprehensive collection of Baptist history-related links, and a regularly updated list of announcements related to the field. BSO is a collaborative effort by Baptist scholars from a variety of traditions, with technical support provided by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
They also have an online journal (the Journal of Baptist Studies) edited by Keith Harper and Nathan Finn. In the second volume of this journal, they have re-printed an article I did a few years ago that appeared in the now defunct Faith & Mission. My article is titled, "The 1919 Statement of Belief and the Tradition of Confessional Boundaries for Southern Baptist Missionaries." In it I examine the 1919 Statement of Belief that was used by the Foreign Mission Board of the SBC as a doctrinal standard for Southern Baptist missionaries. The article makes the point that contrary to the views of many moderate Baptists, Southern Baptists have long held to the importance of doctrinal accountability for those who serve through their mission board, as the 1919 statement demonstrates.

For I have many people in this city

Acts 18:9 Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city."

In Acts 18, Luke records how Paul came to minister in the city of Corinth. He stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked alongside them as "tentmakers" (see Acts 18:2-3). Though working to support himself, Paul was also busy in ministry: "And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks" (v. 4).

When Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth to offer their support, Paul "was compelled by the Spirit and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ" (v. 5). When these opposed and blasphemed, Paul turned his attention to the Gentiles (v. 6). Paul’s ministry was not without fruit. One of those converted was a Gentile God-fearer named Justus who lived next to the synagogue (v. 7). Another was Crispus, "the ruler of the synagogue," who believed on the Lord together with his household (v. 8). Luke adds: "And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized" (v. 8). Note the fundamental Biblical pattern: the gospel is heard, believed, and only the converted are baptized.

Despite this fruit, Paul was apparently discouraged. In Acts 18:9-10, Luke tells how the Lord himself spoke to Paul and gave him the encouragement to speak and not be silent (v. 9). The Lord promised to be with Paul and to protect his life (v. 10). At the end of this encouragement, the Lord added, "for I have many people in this city" (v. 10). With this Paul stayed another year and six months, "teaching the Word of God among them" (v. 11).

As we consider this passage, let us think about our own ministry in the city of Charlottesville and the surrounding area. Yes, we have our own Corinth all around us. As Jeremiah wrote to the Israelites in exile, we should "seek the peace" of our city (Jeremiah 29:7). The greatest peace is, of course, knowing Christ. Like Paul we want with boldness to testify to one and all that Jesus is the Christ. If discouraged, we should also heed the Lord’s words to Paul: "for I have many people in this city." Indeed, as in Corinth so in Charlottesville, there are many people that the Lord has appointed to salvation in this city (cf. Acts 13:48: "and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed"). Yes, many will reject the gospel, but there are also many who will believe. We do not know who will respond. It might, in fact, be the very person we think least likely.

Let this give us great boldness in ministry in this place in this new year!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article for 1.15.09.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Venning on the Sinfulness of Sin

The Puritan Pastor Ralph Venning (1621-74) first published The Plague of Plagues in 1669, four years after the Great Plague of London. You can read the entire text online here. Greater than physical plague in Venning's mind was the spiritual plague of sin. Venning's work can be read in the Banner of Truth Puritan paperback series as The Sinfulness of Sin. Here are some quotes from Venning on sin:

"So what is done by any man would be done by every man, if God did not restrain some men from it by his power, and constrain others to obedience by his love and power…" (p. 30).
"As in God there is no evil, so in sin there is no good" (p. 31).
"All God's works were good exceedingly, beautiful in admiration; but the works of sin are deformed and monstrous ugly, for it works disorder, confusion, and everything that is abominable" (p. 32).

"The reason why they [sinful men] find so much fault with God is because he finds out their faults" (p. 49).

"How hard it is then to sin once, and only once. Sin grows upon us" (p. 166).

Sin persuades that "what may be sin in another cannot be sin in you" (p. 169).

"Sin promises like a God but pays like a Devil" (p. 170).

"God hates man for sin. It is not only sin (Proverbs 6:16, 19) but sinners that God hates, and that for sin. It is said of God that he hates the workers of iniquity (Psalm 5:5); not only the works of iniquity, but the workers of it" (p. 189).

"Sinners grow up faster than men do; they are old in sin when they are still young in years" (p. 191).

"Sin costs dear, but profits nothing; they make a bad purchase who buy their damnation" (p. 201).

"Sin is a very expensive thing: it cannot be maintained without great cost. Men might build hospitals at a cheaper rate than they can maintain their lusts. Some men's sins cost them more in a day than their families do in a week, perhaps in a year. Some starve their families to feed their lusts, which have turned many out of house and home, and reduced great estates to a crust of bread, quite apart from what will happen hereafter. Lusts consume health and wealth (Proverbs 5). Gluttony, drunkenness, and uncleanness are costly and expensive" (p. 202).

"You cannot stand at too great a distance from sin" (p. 267).


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Listening Recommendations

Have some drive time and want to listen to something better than Rush or Sean Hannity? There are several good internet broadcasts featuring discussion of Christian life and theology that are worth a listen.
I recently discovered the "Christ the Center" broadcast of the Reformed Forum which features pastors, students, and professors with ties to Westminster Seminary discussing various doctrinal topics.
Several JPBCers also got me intersted in the weekly White Horse Inn program.
Apologist James White's weekly broadcast of The Dividing Line is also worth a listen (though I don't agree with his views on the text of Scripture).

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Blessing of Adoption

One of the great privileges of being a Pastor is that you get to be witness to and take part in key events in the lives of your people. On the last day of 2008 my family went to an adoption agency office in Northern Virginia to take part in an adopton finalization cemermony for the Minyards as they welcomed a beautiful new daughter to their family.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008 Top Ten Books

Here are my top ten books (in no particular order) that I either read or re-read in 2008:

1. Joel Beeke & Dianne Kleyn, Building on the Rock Series (Christian Focus).

My family started reading this five book series as part or our evening family devotions last year and we completed the five book series this year. These simple stories illustrate Biblical and moral principles for children (and adults). Excellent!

2. Joel R. Beeke, Overcoming the World: Grace to Win the Daily Battle (P & R, 2005).

This is a gem for those who serve in pastoral ministry. It offers both great encouragement and deep challenges. I have given away about 20 copies of this book to fellow pastors over the course of the last year, always with the advice that they begin by reading the two practical chapters in the second half of the book on dealing with pride and criticism. Those two chapters will speak deeply to anyone involved in public ministry.

3. J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Evangelical Press, 2004 [originally published in 1879]).

I finally got around to reading this classic. I took the slow approach, reading it over several months. There is so much to process on every page. A stimulating, practical work on sanctification.

4. Theodore P. Letis, The Ecclesiastical Text: Text Criticism, Biblical Authority, and the Popular Mind (Institute for Renaissance and Reformation Biblical Studies, 1997).

Letis dares to challenge the assumption that the modern critical Greek text is superior to the "ecclesiastical text" (textus receptus). He argues that Warfield and others made too great a sacrifice when they accepted Wescott and Hort’s views of the Greek text in the name of seeking the inerrant "original autographs." Letis argues instead for divine preservation of the "apographs" (copies) of the received or ecclesiastical text.

5. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Signet, 1961 [originally written in 1813]).

OK, I have to admit that I am part of the Jane Austen male fan club (JPBC’s Stephen P. and Steve B. are also members). I got hooked watching the "Complete Jane Austen" series on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater and had to read her classic work. Austen is a master at understanding the human heart and in marveling at the ways of a man with a woman (Proverbs 30:19).

6. John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress (original 1678, 1684).

I re-read the classic while we were in China this summer (mostly on airplanes). This time through I was struck on a deeper level by Bunyan’s Reformed soteriology.

7. Faith Cook, Troubled Journey: A Missionary Childhood in War-Torn China (Banner, 2004).

Faith Cook is an English Pastor’s wife (and a favorite author of my daughter Hannah) who grew up as an MK in China. In this little book, Cook manages both to honor her parents and at the same time critique their Hudson Taylor inspired mind-set of sacrificing family for ministry. A great book for adult children of ministers or missionaries or for anyone who needs to come to terms with childhood misgivings.

8. Joseph Pipa, Jr. Ed., The Worship of God: Reformed Concepts of Biblical Worship (Christian Focus, 2005).

I picked this book up at the Evangelical Forum in September. It is a collection of essays on worship from a theology conference at Greenville Presbyterian Seminary. This book really made me think hard about the regulative principles in worship and has had an impact on our worship practice at JPBC.

9. Joel Beeke, et al, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (Reformation Trust, 2008).

Yes, this is the third time you’ve seen Beeke’s name on my list. This book is a wonderful collection of essays on Calvinism. Beeke’s exposition of the five solas and TULIP is superb. But the key argument of this book is that Calvinism is more than soteriology, but a comprehensive worldview impacting one’s views on church, worship, ethics, marriage, family, etc.

10. Ji-Li Jiang, Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution (Harper Trophy, 1997).

Llew and I both read this book last summer before our trip to China. It is the sad story of a young Chinese girl and her family who suffered and persevered during the cultural revolution in China. A tremendous illustration of how sin destroys trust and community, but it also reveals hope and common grace.

A few honorable mentions: Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray McCheynne (Banner, 1960 [1844]); Peter Barnes, A Handful of Pebbles: Theological Liberalism and the Church (Banner, 2008); H. Rider Haggard, Pearl Maiden (Christian Liberty Press, 2003 [1903]); G. A. Henty, With Lee in Virginia (Dover, 2004 [1897]); Wilbur Pickering, The Identity of the NT Text II, 3rd ed. (Wipf and Stock, 2003); Voddie Baucham, Jr, Family Driven Faith (Crossway, 2007); D. A. Carson, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (Crossway, 2008); J. I. Packer, A Passion for Holiness (Crossway, 1992).