Should Christians Take Sermon Notes?

October 28, 2010

I was thinking recently about Christians taking sermon notes. I’ve never been good at taking notes in general (I can hardly read my hand writing), but I often wonder if people who take notes lose something by not focusing on the message immediately in front of them? Apparently Jonathan Edwards agreed. He writes,

The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered

(Quoted in The Salvation of Souls, eds. Richard Bailey and Gregory Wills, p. 11)

What think ye? Was Edwards way off?

Free Copy of Carol Cornish’s “The Undistracted Widow”

October 23, 2010

As followup to the blog interview I conducted with Carol Cornish about her new book, The Undistracted Widow, I want to offer a free copy of it to my readers. All you have to do is leave a comment about how this book will better help you serve widows as an individual Christian, how it will help you serve widows in your ministry, or if you are a widow, how you will use it in your own life to be “undistracted” and take what you learn to minister to other widows. And then from those entries I will randomly pick a winner! Easy enough. This is probably the best book I have read for widows out there. You’ll want to get yourself a copy today!

Shakespeare’s Message to Pastors

October 18, 2010

“Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,

Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,

Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,

Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads.

And recks not his own rede.”

Hamlet, Act I, Scene III

I Don’t Feel Like I Should be Revered

October 11, 2010

This past Sunday was my ordination. This was a moment in my ministry life that I have been looking forward to for many years. Having served in the ministry in a number of capacities over the last years I always felt it was difficult to be serving in the Gospel ministry when I had never been “set apart” for the Gospel ministry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand I can do ministry without being ordained, but it always felt funny being a pastor and never being ordained. In fact, during my Q&A when I came to Tunkhannock Baptist Church, some people wondered why I had not been ordained. I remember the words “don’t people usually get sent ordained already?” I sometimes felt like I was missing a crucial component. I always wondered what it would be like as an ordained pastor.

So, once the US government finally approved me to work in the US the church decided I should pursue ordination. So, I planned accordingly. I set a date to hold a council, invited area churches to take part, revised my personal doctrinal statement, invited people key to my life and ministry to come to preach the following Lord’s Day when the church would act on the ordination council recommendation, and planned the days events. One of my professors from seminary flew in from Wisconsin to preach and my father drove from Canada to do the same. It was an exciting time as the council grilled me on both theological and character issues in my life. The council in the end unanimously recommended to the church to ordain me and this past Sunday, the church unanimously agreed to ordain me. I then knelt and had hands laid upon me and was prayed over.

But I had already been serving this church as pastor since last year. What changed here? What was being evaluated that the church hadn’t already done when they hired me? What was the point of this ordaining in the end? Just so I can have a certificate to hang on my wall? Just so I can call myself “reverend?” In Pennsylvania I don’t even need to have that do do weddings! So, what was the point.

As I’ve been thinking about this today, I have come to grasp the wonder of ordination as a wonder of the grace of God. Let me explain…

What I realized, in preparation for the council, the answers I was able to give, the influence of the men who came to preach on the Lord’s Day, the recognition of the council of my calling, and the confirmation of the council on my calling is that it is all by God’s grace. What ordination confirms in my mind, is that none of this that I do as pastor of Tunkhannock Baptist Church is of of me. It is all of Christ. It is through Christ I came to faith, that I was called to the ministry, that I pursued seminary, that I searched out a church to pastor, that the church called me to be their pastor. All these things are of the grace of Christ. From whence I have come, to where I am at, to where I am going, there through it all, is the direct work of Christ in my life. And what the council and the church has done is not recognized me, they have recognized Christ in my life and calling. That is humbling!

My ordination will forever remind me that I have come this far not of my own effort. It wasn’t the hours I spent reading theology, years studying Greek and Hebrew, days preparing sermons, it was all the grace of Christ that has brought me to be a minister of the Gospel. Like Paul I echo 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” I may have worked harder than some, but it was all of Christ.

Over the years ahead that I serve Christ at Tunkhannock Baptist Church, I will remember October 10, 2010 as the date that my local church confirmed the grace of God in my life. Without that grace, I would be dead in my trespasses and sins. With that grace, I am a redeemed servant of Christ and have the privilege of being His undershepherd. My ordination will forever be the public confirmation of God’s grace in my life. I don’t feel like I should be revered, but I revere Christ all the more for the grace of God in my life. Praise God for His grace!

Carol Cornish on her New Book “The Undistracted Widow”

October 5, 2010

I have known Carol Cornish for as long as I have known my wife. Carol was a member of the church in which my wife was also a member. I met my wife, and all of her friends (including Carol) as I grew to know and court my wife. We also had the privilege of meeting a few times with Carol as we progressed along in our courtship and preparation for marriage, as Carol is a trained Biblical counselor. She is gifted at getting to the heart of matters and bringing the Scriptures to bear on your life. So, when I heard she was writing a book, I knew I wanted to read it, no matter what it was upon. Because it was on a topic so personal to her and because of her skill in counseling, I knew I would want this book for my own. I was not disappointed. Carol’s new book, The Undistracted Widow: Living For God After Losing Your Husband from Crossway, is both an excellent resource for widows and for the churches that should seek to care for them. Carol was gracious enough to take some time to answer some questions I had for her about the book.

1) It is clear from your book that losing one’s husband is a terrible thing. What made you decide to write about it?

I decided to write about the loss of a husband because:

  • I could not find written materials that were biblically sound and extensive in addressing this particular loss;
  • I began to realize that what I wrote for myself and collected from other sources was making a huge positive impact on my ability to adjust to being a widow;
  • I found that in my interactions with other widows and with widowers that they were helped by the things that God was teaching me;
  • I observed that even grieving Christians often seemed to lack focus and were confused about what to do now that their spouse was gone; they were languishing in their circumstances or running away from their sorrowful feelings rather than going to God with them;
  • I sensed a need for instruction for churches and families on how to help widows.

2) How are churches doing in ministering to widows? Where are they lacking?

My impression of how churches are doing in ministering to widows is that help is adequately provided around the time of the death, but that ongoing ministry could be improved.  In fact, ongoing ministry to older people in general needs improvement.  Churches seem focused, like our culture, on youth.  Ministry to older people is a low priority if a priority at all.  While it is common to hear a lot about the church’s obligation to nuclear families or to orphans, how many times do you hear about concern for widows that leads to intentional ministry to them?  Somehow we’ve overlooked the clear and consistent message in the Scriptures that God has deep concern not only for orphans and other vulnerable persons among us but certainly also for widows.  I sometimes get the sense that because a fair number of widows and other older people live in retirement communities and because many have pensions and government support that the church assumes all of their needs are being met.  But that is a misguided assumption.

3) In what ways did your church best help you as you grieved? What could they have done better?

My church best helped me in a number of significant ways:

  • prayer – congregational prayer for us on Sunday mornings, with my husband and me in our home, in small group meetings – consistent, fervent prayer from the leadership of my church and from people in the congregation
  • consistent contact – email, phone calls, cards, visits – we knew we were not alone in the struggle against cancer and failing health
  • meals – and other offers of practical help; our assistant pastor even loaned us a dehumidifier to dry out a wet basement
  • the support of other widows after my husband’s death – they were  my beacon in the darkness showing me how to go on
  • the funeral service at the church and the reception after the graveside service – I felt so surrounded by the strength and love of my brothers and sisters in Christ

I honestly cannot think of anything they could have done better.  They were a model of how to do it right.

4) As individual Christians how can we best minister to widows? How should the church specifically minister to widows?

The best way to help a widow is to get to know her well and to minister the one another’s of the New Testament to her.  Include her as part of your family.  Don’t assume anything – check it out with her.  Will she be alone on holidays?  Ask her.  Does she need help around the house?  Take your rake or shovel over to her home and help her with maintenance tasks that overwhelm her.

A church in our area has a sign-up sheet in the lobby for anyone who needs help with grass, leaves, and snow.  The youth ministry then provides the elbow grease for helping with these tasks.  What a powerful and practical way to show the love of Christ!  What a powerful witness to neighbors and communities!

Those in church leadership who are responsible for the care of members need to respectfully and sensitively ask if she needs financial help.  Find out if and how family members are in contact with her and if they are caring for her.  If they seem to be neglectful, explore with them what they think their role is in caring for her.

If she resides in a nursing home or retirement community, she is still the church’s responsibility.  Be sure to visit on a regular basis and find out how she is being cared for.  Ask her questions about the care and services provided.  Make sure the staff knows that you look in on her on a consistent and frequent basis.

Any faithful widow left truly alone is the church’s responsibility. The church must be her advocate so that she is not abused and neglected.

5) As a trained biblical counselor, what can you advise us to say to those who are grieving around us?

All of us have suffered in some way – large or small.  Think carefully about what has been said to you that has been encouraging, comforting, and helpful.  If you can’t think of anything to say, at the least say “I’m sorry” because you are sorry – sorry that the person is suffering this loss.  If it’s true, tell them that you’ve been thinking about them and are praying for them.  If appropriate, tell the person you care about them and give a gentle hug.  Do not tell them you know how they feel – you don’t know.  Do not relate to them a story about a loss you have suffered. Do not use Scripture verses as platitudes.

Give a concrete invitation and follow up – “Can you join us for dinner on Saturday?”  Do not nervously say that you’ll have the person for dinner/get together and then not follow through.  Saying nothing would be better than raising false hopes of an invitation. Be genuine, be self-forgetful and let your words bless the grieving.  In my book, I have a small chart of things to say and not to say.

6) I have heard it said that the church should financially support women in the church with no husbands, specifically those with children, so they do not have to work outside of the home. What do you think about this? Is it the church’s responsibility to financially support our single women with children?

While this is an important question, it is not something I have extensively studied.  Therefore, I would defer to those who have – like John MacArthur and Grace Community Church.

7) What other resources would you recommend on the subject of widows and grieving?

Elisabeth Elliot, who was widowed twice, has some valuable written materials on grief especially her booklet entitled Facing the Death of Someone You Love.  Patti McCarthy Broderick wrote a book that is very helpful especially for younger widows entitled He Said, “Press.”  A book recently released is God’s Care For the Widow by Austin Walker.  Walker is a pastor in the UK and his book comes from the perspective of a pastor ministering to widows.  I like his theological understanding of the issues in widowhood, however, for a recently widowed woman the book may come across as somewhat academic.

My book has an extensive suggested reading list in which many helpful books and articles on grieving may be found.

8) You cite a number of different hymns throughout history. How did Christian hymnody help you through the grieving over the death of your husband? How can it help others grieving?

A good hymn is solid theology poetically expressed and set to beautiful music.  In all of the major crises of my Christian life, the thing that kept my mind sane and stable was singing to myself these wonderful hymns.  In a crisis, it is hard for me to recite to myself chunks of Scripture.  But if I sing to myself, the tune carries me along and the words come more easily.  The truths those words express guide and comfort me.  So, in auto accidents, in hospital emergency rooms, in doctors’ offices, and in the room my husband died here at home, I have sung these wonderful songs to myself or out loud.  I receive immense comfort in this way.  I suggest memorizing hymns just as we memorize Scripture.  One way to do this is to take a hymn and sing it everyday (all the verses in the hymnal) for a month.  After thirty days of singing the hymn daily, it will be planted in your mind and hopefully accessed easily in your memory when you are under duress.

9) You cite a number of historical writers throughout your book. Was there a writer who spoke most clearly to what you were facing? Who was the most helpful writer of the past for you?

Puritan pastors were wonderful physicians of the soul.  They knew the Scriptures well, they knew God – especially in a warm and personal way, most of them had experienced significant suffering, and they knew the needs of their people because they visited them regularly in their homes.  And they wrote down what they learned about how to minister the grace and love of God to others.  So, we have this wonderful body of literature to instruct us about life’s crises, for example, Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment and All Things For Good, Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, John Owens’ Communion With God, John Flavel’s Facing Grief, Thomas Vincent’s True Christian’s Love to the Unseen Christ, and so on.

In addition, though they are not strictly considered among the Puritans, I have been profoundly influenced in my thinking and helped in my grieving by the writings of Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Angell James, Arthur Pink, and P. B. Power.

10) Now that this book is done, do you have plans to do any more writing or speaking on this topic or on other practical theological topics?

Yes, I am writing for a magazine in the UK and doing blog and radio interviews for the book. I will be continuing to speak at women’s events on various topics on which I have written.  I have some ideas for new writing projects and am praying over them and waiting for the Lord’s leading.

Christianity Truly Offers Gender Equality

October 4, 2010

The Scranton Times-Tribune ran an article on October 2, 2010 about a recent lecture celebrating “Feminist First Friday” at the University of Scranton. The emphasis is to provide full equality for men and women. As Christianity is often criticized for not offering full equality for men and women (particularly against women) I thought it helpful to articulate an important thought: Christianity truly offers gender equality.

Now, first some caveats. I would imagine that no one would think there are no differences between men and women. There are obvious physiological differences (a fourth grade anatomy class can tell us that) and obvious relational differences (any new married couple can tell us that) but I would imagine the University would accept these differences. But, besides these basic differences, can there be true equality?

Biblical Christianity is criticized because it argues that women cannot fill the office of bishop (or elder or pastor). They articulate clearly from such passages as 1 Timothy 2:12 which reads “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” that in the church women cannot have the top leadership position. The reality is that the plain sense of this passage is clear and unless you want to throw it out of the Bible then it’s there and we need to deal with it. But that’s another matter. Also, Biblical Christianity recognizes that the husband is the head of the home. Ephesians 5:22–23 reads “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” Again, a face value reading gives a quite obvious meaning of these verses. So, Christianity articulates that some roles and responsibilities are intrinsically different between men and women. But, at the foundational core, Christianity teaches complete equality. What do I mean?

Before God all people are sinners; completely equal in their sin (Romans 3:23). It does not matter whether they are men or women, Jew or Gentile, or whatever, all people everywhere are sinners, and equally condemned before God (Romans 5:12). And while this is incredibly bad news for all, both men and women, there is great news for all too. Christ died for sinful men and women. “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). And now, Christians, stand before God, completely equal. Galatians 3:28 reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All people, whether male or female, if they trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, are completely equal before God: they are all God’s children.

So, who offers complete equality between men and women? Secular feminism? Not likely. Only Biblical Christianity offers complete equality between men and women where it counts: before God.