Thursday, October 30

A Plea To Pastors

So poignant was this letter when I first read it that I wanted to share it with you exactly as I received it. May the Lord do in all of us ministers what Kenny so longs for in the Church!


[This letter was included in Heartcry, A Journal on Revival and Spiritual Awakening, Issue 33, Fall 2005]

Editor’s Note: Heartcry Journal received the following letter within the past month. The passion and insight contained in it seemed worth sharing with our readers. We pass it on in the spirit it was given—with a broken heart and desperation for God.

Dear Pastors,

The other day I heard a pastor (not my pastor) preach a lifeless, passionless, pointless sermon with no power and no fire. I am not referring to animated “aerobic exercise class” preaching. (Vance Havner, a great man of God, preached with power and passion and fire, yet he was not animated but monotone and motionless in his preaching style) The message I heard the other day was a waste of my time, and that provokes me to say the following to preachers:

We are thirsty and we are hungry. We are hurting and we need help. We need the fire of God and we need the power of God. And preacher, we need you. You have a special calling on your life, and God has chosen you to be His voice.

But what we don’t need are more “cute,” alliterated sermons, as helpful as alliteration can be in communicating a message. What we don’t need are more sermons that have three points, six sub-points, and a cute, closing story or poem, as helpful as that may be in communicating a message. What we don’t need are more funny, silly jokes in sermons. What we don’t need is for you to keep referring to yourself when you preach. And what we don’t need is to hear more sermons from the Internet or from some book that was purchased at the latest Christian bookstore sale.

What we need is for our preachers to have the fire of God. What we need is for our preachers to have the power of God. What we need is for our preachers to have a passion for the messages that are proclaimed. What we need is for our preachers to feed us from the written Word of God. What we need is for our preachers to be consumed by fire from heaven so that we ourselves may join you in being consumed by God. What we need is for our preachers to be consumed by their passion for the Word of God.

Please help us, preachers. We know that we have a personal responsibility for our own walk with God. But we need help. We are weak, we are frail, we are forgetful. We need to hear from heaven. We don’t need to hear about fishing trips or cruises in sermons. We don’t need more covered dish suppers at the church. We don’t need to hear about the local football team in messages that are preached. We don’t need to hear of accomplishments and awards and degrees. What we want to hear is that you have been approved by God to proclaim His Word to us.

We are perishing in the pews, and we perish because there is little or no vision of God in some of our pulpits. We are tired of hearing Proverbs 29:18 misinterpreted and applied to long-range planning. We, the people, are perishing because there is no vision of God.

Rise up! Stand up! And don’t settle for mediocrity! Don’t settle for less! Get all you can from God, give it to us, and then go back and get some more. Pursue God with passion. Don’t go into the pulpit until you have a message from Him to proclaim to us. Don’t preach until you know that you are right with God. Don’t go into the pulpit until you know you are anointed by God and have the fire of God.


                                                                        Kenny [Corn]


PS:  It has been said that where there is smoke, there is fire. Sadly, though, smoke can also be an indication that the fire has gone out.

Monday, October 27

MEEKNESS--Counteracting Modern Hubris

I remember John Piper saying once that he didn't necessarily read completely through most books, unless it were Jonathan Edwards--excepting Scripture, of course. He further commented that none of us remembers all of what we read. Usually it's a paragraph or even one sentence that tends to make a lasting impact. I have certainly found that to be true of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Sermon on the Mount. Some years back when I was just out of college, I began preaching a series on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew. Drawing from Lloyd-Jones' amazing collection of sixty sermons I found a treasure trove of wisdom. One of the most memorable, and I'd say, defining paragraphs I have read was a comment he made in defining the meek man as found in the third beatitude.

We spend the whole of our lives watching ourselves. But when a man becomes meek he has finished with all that; he no longer worries about himself and what other people say. To be truly meek means we no longer protect ourselves, because we see there is nothing worth defending. So we are not on the defensive; all that is gone. The man who is truly meek never pities himself, he is never sorry for himself. He never talks to himself and says, “You are having a hard time, how unkind these people are not to understand you.” He never thinks: ‘How wonderful I really am, if only other people gave me a chance.’ Self-pity! What hours and years we waste in this! But the man who has become meek has finished with all that. To be meek, in other words, means that you have finished with yourself altogether, and you come to see you have no rights or deserts at all. You come to realize that nobody can harm you. John Bunyan puts it perfectly, ‘He that is down need fear no fall.’ When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad. You need not worry about what men may say or do; you know you deserve it all and more. Once again, therefore, I would define meekness like this. The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do. That, it seems to me, is its essential quality. [Emphases mine]
Oh, that more of us would hear these timely words! What we need today is not more voices screaming for their rights. No, we need more who when they are right with God, cry for a deeper death to self, a complete loss of concern about reputation and fame. There is certainly nothing new about hubris, nor about the biblical cure. John Flavel, the Puritan, had it right when he said, "They that know God will be humble and they that know themselves cannot be proud." Amen.


A 17th Century Nun's Prayer!

OK, so I am a protestant and am happy to be one. Still, the common sense wisdom and humor that emanates from this anonymous Nun's prayer is unavoidable. I think all of us who work in ministry (as well as everyone else, for that matter) could stand to read and heed the following. You can find several online sources for this prayer, one of which shows it in a slightly different order. 

Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older, and will someday be old.    
Keep me from getting talkative, and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.             

Release me from craving to try to straighten out everybody’s affairs.             

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details . . . give me wings to get to the point.             

I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others’ pains.  Help me to endure them with patience. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains . . . they are increasing and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.  

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint . . . some of them are so hard to live with . . . but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil.        

Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all . . . but thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end. 

--by a Mother Superior, who wishes to remain anonymous

Me thinks she has a point!

Humbly wincing!? 


Saturday, October 25

Blogs, Opinions, and Truth

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

Probably one of the most significant downfalls in the blogosphere is the preponderance of uncritical, unqualified remarks. It is certainly the nature of blogs to invite comment, and that is good. It may also NOT be good. Anyone can weigh in on a subject--no matter how astute or ignorant--and still remain anonymous. That's simply part of the attraction of blogs, isn't it? It is also part of the distraction. It would be hoped that with all the talking going on, we would improve in our ability to reason things out in a way that is, . . . well, . . . reasonable! "Everyone has a right to his own opinion," so many are fond of quoting, because it opens the game to all comers, and levels the playing field. But there is an offsetting word we need to hear, viz., ". . . but that doesn't mean that every opinion is equally right." There must be a standard against which all opinions are measured, otherwise no one's opinion carries any weight. I like the way Douglas Groothuis puts it: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but everyone is not entitled to their own truth. Truth is but one. (See his book Truth Decay) This makes sense. I don't know everything. I KNOW that I don't know everything. Therefore, I turn to others who most likely DO know more than I and find in them helpful knowledge. I may offer my opinion, but it will not hold weight compared to those who are more learned on a subject than am I. That should be common sense. Should be! Alas, this may be but a rare thing! Still, in this information age, we do well to seek out, not just more facts (of which there is a dizzying surplus) but the right arranging of them. That is all I am calling for, the use of good sense, common sense, humility, and truth. 
The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains proves that he has no brain of his own. CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON
I knew a man some 30 years ago with whom I was traveling to a youth meeting. He was a businessman in his fifties and had done some preaching on the side. Being a ministry student myself, I asked him how he went about studying for messages? Who did he like to read? He said that he used only the Bible, that he didn't believe in reading other men's works. He added, "I just rely on the Holy Spirit." Now reliance on the Holy Spirit cannot be overestimated; it is too little understood today. However, as I had learned something of Spurgeon's opinion on this subject, I shared that with this gentleman. It seemed most appropriate at the time, kind of like, well, . . . "apples of gold in pictures of silver." Thankfully, he responded well. Why? First, because the Holy Spirit opened his heart to hear it. (See? We need the Spirit!) And secondly, it manifestly made sense. It was close to a truism, like saying, "Water quenches thirst." Hard to deny. Isn't it odd, that the man who relies so exclusively on the Spirit for his own preparation will so easily dismiss the Spirit's influence in other men? That is what Spurgeon had said, and it made a world of sense then. 
It still makes a world of sense. May God help us to find our standard in Jesus Christ and within the bounds of his Church, which Scripture terms, "a pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). I defer my opinion to Him who has none, for He IS the Truth. Would that all mankind would do likewise.

Wednesday, October 22

John Bunyan on Prayer

John Bunyan (1628-1688) is commonly known through his perennially favorite Pilgrim's Progress. His works, however, comprise 3 volumes and offer this generation of disciples a wealth of Christ-honoring, soul-enhancing truth in a number of subject areas. These volumes can be found online or through The Banner of Truth Trust.  On the subject of prayer he says,

Before you enter into prayer, ask thy soul these questions

  1. To what end, O my soul, art thou retired into this place? 
  2. Art thou not come to discourse the Lord in prayer? 
  3. Is he present; will he hear thee? 
  4. Is he merciful; will he help thee? 
  5. Is thy business slight; is it not concerning the welfare of thy soul? 
  6. What words wilt thou use to move him to compassion?

To make thy preparation complete, consider that thou art but dust and ashes, and he the great God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that clothes himself with light as with a garment; that thou art a vile sinner, he a holy God; that thou art but a poor crawling worm, he the omnipotent Creator.  In all your prayers forget not to thank the Lord for his mercies.

When thou prayest, rather let thy hearts be without words, than thy words without a heart.  Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.  The spirit of prayer is more precious than treasures of gold and silver.  Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.

Here then is a taste of the wisdom of this man of God. Hopefully, his words provide more than a mere sample. May God unite our hearts in faithful prayer.  

Monday, October 20

"Faithing Out" the Ministry

No sooner had he finished astonishing Palestine with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) than Jesus was challenged to put his own “salt” and “light” on the line. A leper wanted healing. So? Well, it is one thing to teach with Pharisee-surpassing authority, but quite another to “faith it out” with conviction. Or, put another way, it is one thing to preach with power, but another thing to put it to work. At least, that is the way we might view it. The point? Those who love to preach the Sermon on the Mount do not necessarily faith it out in the face of life’s challenges—whether it’s leprosy, worry, pornography, finances or spoiled relationships. Somehow, and wholly unintentionally, we ministers allow a dichotomy to develop between the ethics of the kingdom (Sermon on Mount), and the faith-expression of that kingdom (healing the leper). We may do well in the study or visitation or in special services (weddings, funerals), and at the same time fail to make a vital life-changing connection with the world of need, sin, and despair. We may bail out hoping to find relief in the “professionals” (church growth experts, psychologists). Now, without disparaging the counseling profession—they may offer us help—we must not lose sight of the Spirit’s miraculous, amaze-us-beyond-belief powers. Unfortunately, His unpredictability, like the wind, increases our doubt instead of humbling our westernized linear-bound filter. Put simply—we don’t trust our ministries into His infinitely capable hands! We fall from being Spirit-filled to performing church, from being the “light on the hill” to settling comfortably under the protection of a bushel.

Two principles from the leper’s healing:

1) Start With Worship. “A leper came to him and knelt before him” (Matthew 8:2). There’s a lot to be said for just showing up, but far more if it be in a state of humble reverence. Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees saying, “You would not come to me that you might have life” (John 5:40). They knew Scripture but couldn’t see the Messiah right in front of them! How many of us in ministry also exhibit something of the same handicap?

2) Look for Jesus’ Solution. Jesus affirmed the leper’s faith, “I will; be clean” (v. 3). Simple enough, right? He came to Christ and found healing. There IS a confident simplicity to faith—a certain clarity. It cuts through all distractions and hindrances and insists that God’s power will freely supply our need. Jesus has urged us to call out to him confidently. After exhorting the disciples to “ask, seek, and knock,” Jesus promises that God would only give good things to them.  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13) How much more, indeed!

Practice the humility of dependence in worship, then call out confidently to God who loves to give us of His Spirit. Much of the frustrations that we ministers face, and all Christians suffer can be greatly alleviated by trusting in God to empower us. So, let’s be salt and light!

Friday, October 17

Long Devotions--Soul Healthy

While the term "pious" generally suggests hypocrisy or pretense, it used to mean something very good. My huge Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary gives it's first meaning as "having or showing a dutiful spirit of reverence for God, or an earnest wish to fulfill religious obligations." This is the meaning I'd like to use along with E. M. Bounds (1835-1913) to promote our having "long devotions." In Power Through Prayer, Bounds writes:
Our devotions are not measured by the clock, but time is of their essence. . . Hurry, everywhere [improper] and damaging, is so to an alarming extent in the great business of communion with God. Short devotions are the bane of deep piety. Calmness, grasp, strength, are never the companions of hurry. Short devotions deplete spiritual vigor, arrest spiritual progress, sap spiritual foundations, blight the root and bloom of spiritual life. They are the prolific source of backsliding, the sure indication of a superficial piety; they deceive, blight, rot the seed, and impoverish the soul.
When I was growing up in Richmond, Virginia, it was not uncommon to hear from church leaders something like, "at least give God five minutes a day in devotions." Accepting that they meant well, their advice can promote a wholly inadequate view of God, and if followed, lead to nothing short of a vacuous relationship to Jesus Christ. We should be calling for a kind of devotional life which is in keeping with the majesty of the One to whom we are devoted. Perhaps one reason so many fell away in those days (and today) is because too little was expected of them as disciples of Jesus. Loving God with ALL the heart, soul, mind, and strength really cannot be yoked together with selfish convenience. 

May God open the eyes of this generation to "seek great things of God" by pursuing the deeper things of God--piously.


Thursday, October 16

One Test Today: Success

Let me introduce A. W. Tozer (1898-1963) to you if you've not become familiar with him. A very practical man from Western Pennsylvania, Tozer had his finger on the pulse of biblical spirituality for many years. And though he was forced to leave home at a young age, forfeiting an education, Tozer comes behind in no way spiritually. His words are as profound today as they were when he wrote them. He spoke with such prophetic authority that one wonders if he is "just outside our church door" writing about us! 

The following is a typical example taken from his many writings. See and subscribe to his daily devotion sent to your email at Literature Ministries International. I would recommend keeping Tozer's works near at hand, especially for any minister of the gospel. 

For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17)

Much that passes for Christianity today is the brief bright effort of the severed branch to bring forth its fruit in its season. But the deep laws of life are against it. Preoccupation with appearances and a corresponding neglect of the out-of-sight root of the true spiritual life are prophetic signs which go unheeded. Immediate "results" are all that matter, quick proofs of present success without a thought of next week or next year. Religious pragmatism is running wild among the orthodox. Truth is whatever works. If it gets results it is good. There is but one test for the religious leader: success. Everything is forgiven him except failure.

A tree can weather almost any storm if its root is sound, but when the fig tree which our Lord cursed "dried up from the roots" it immediately "withered away." A church that is soundly rooted cannot be destroyed, but nothing can save a church whose root is dried up. No stimulation, no advertising campaigns, no gifts of money and no beautiful edifice can bring back life to the rootless tree.  (The Root of the Righteous, 4-5)

Each devotional is culled from his many writings, and classified under 12 headings corresponding to the months of the year. If you are so inclined, you may purchase his Works on CD from Rejoice SoftwareJ.I. Packer writes, "Reading Tozer is like drinking at an oasis in the desert." Philosopher Ravi Zacharias says "Tozer was a unique voice in his time, but the potency of his writings is timeless."

Keep Tozer handy. His voice offers a rare spiritual sanity necessary in our age of theological cacophony. 

Monday, October 13

Cry "Uncle" and PRAY!

"Crying Uncle" means giving in, finally. I am referring specifically to becoming men and women of prayer. Really. Enough talk about it. So many wonderful virtues die at the end of a sound bite. Too many comments--once they leave the mouth--seem to fizzle out within 2 or 3 inches of one's lips. We may give mental assent to them and little or nothing changes. Enough! This is a brief call to my brothers in the ministry to pray. (I reflect my own 40+ years of frustration here) Let's not complain about our church prayer meeting if WE are not praying. Enough wishing. Enough guilt about it. Just PRAY! Honestly, is there anyone who'd really disagree with Acts 6:2, 4--"It is not right that we should give up the preaching of the word of God to serve tables. . . But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word." What is so attractive about this is it's simplicity. But much is got from simplicity. "Simplicity is truth's most becoming garb." Before we venture into the latest method for promoting church growth we must be sure to follow the biblical precedent. My experience shouts that there is a dearth of praying among ministers. This is a call to change that. Enough!

Can I get my fellow ministers to join with me here? No, not a movement. Just PRAY! Not an admission--only. Just do it. What tremendous blessing we miss. What clarity, what communion with God we forfeit. Let's return to prayer as our first line of defense AND offense.

Friday, October 10

What's In a Name?

I am a new "blogger." My wife has been at this for some time (Confessions of a Pastor's Wife at All bloggers know that the initial setup is time consuming and somewhat brain numbing as you seek out an unused name and URL address. I gave a short explanation of the choice of title in my first blog (seemed only right). Now, I want to credit one man with having used the name as a title for his book. Many are familiar with the late D. James Kennedy from Coral Ridge, Florida. Using this title, he penned four dozen meditations on the purpose of the cross of Christ in the Christian's life (Multnomah Publishers, 2007). Of the 48 devotions in this book, one points out the uniqueness of Christianity in that it's Founder, Jesus Christ locates salvation in himself. This is unlike the others systems (Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Mohammedanism, etc.) who grounded their hope in someone else. Jesus declared clearly, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). 

Spurgeon (19th C Preacher in London) said to his church, "I sometimes wonder that you do not get tired of my preaching, because I do nothing but hammer away on this one nail. With me it is, year after year, 'None but Jesus! None but Jesus!' Oh, you great saints, if you have outgrown the need of a sinner's trust in the Lord Jesus, you have outgrown your sins, but you have also outgrown your grace, and your saintship has ruined you!" What a hammer! Infinitely greater still, the NAIL! Thank you Spurgeon and Kennedy for broadcasting such a singular Savior! 

Monday, October 6

Why CROSS Purposes?

The title "CROSS Purposes" characterizes the Christian life accurately. If there were but one symbol to represent the heart of Christianity, it would be the cross. Shameful to the first-century Jew, and foolishness to the philosophy-loving Greek, the cross has stood in ignominy throughout the years. Still, for the apostle Paul, it represented the supreme act of God's salvation work in which he should take glory. "But far be it from me that I should glory except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ . . ." (Gal. 6:14). Notably, Paul asserts this in the face of heresy. His conflict was with Judaizers who were attempting to cajole believers into supplementing their new faith with the obsolete rite of circumcision. My point is that it was a specific conflict which prompted this inspiring declaration from Paul. Attacks on our faith often build the platform from which we declare truth most passionately. So, bound up within this single verse are both elements I would like to unite in this blog: 1) the centrality and superiority of the cross, and 2) the mixed blessing which the cross surfaces as it elicits the animosity of this age. Truly, this world is "no friend to grace, to help us on to God." But help us on to God they do just the same. Thomas Watson (puritan pastor) quotes Augustine, "We are beholden to wicked men, who against their wills, do us good" (A Body of Divinity). It is in this sense therefore, that they are "at cross purposes" with the Gospel. Which is precisely why Paul ends this same verse, "the world is crucified to me and I to the world." My prayer is that through this blog, we'll be able to hold forth the crystal diamond of grace against the black backdrop of contrary opinion.