The Dancing Puritan

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Love Your Family Like a Puritan: Don't Be Chicken-Hearted

To the most wonderful husband & father two girls could ever have--We Love You! Lori and Rachel: Christmas 1991 (inscription in A Quest for Godliness).

Christmas Day, 1991 my wife Lori and our two-year-old daughter Rachel gave me a copy of J.I. Packer's masterpiece, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. I cannot think of any book that I have turned to more in the past 25 years than Packer's classic. In this work Packer compares the English Puritans to the California Redwoods which are "the biggest living things on earth." To Packer the Puritans are giants in godliness. He argues:
As Redwoods attract the eye, because they overtop other trees, so the mature holiness and seasoned fortitude of the great Puritans shine before us as a kind of beacon light, overtopping the stature of the majority of Christians in most eras, and certainly so in this age of crushing urban collectivism, when Western Christians sometimes feel and often look like ants in an anthill and puppets on a string. Behind the Iron Curtain and in the starving, war-torn lands of Africa the story may well have been different, but in Britain and America, the parts of the world that I know best, affluence seems for he past generation to have been making dwarfs and deadheads of us all. In this situation, the teaching and example of the Puritan giants have much to say to us. (12).

Lori's inscription in my copy of Quest was written from her heart. Like the beloved in Solomon's Song, she viewed (and views me) as the best-of-the best. However, when I read the Puritans (or about the Puritans) I feel very much like a dwarf. I often feel dwarf-like in my role as a husband and father. However, this dwarf wants to grow and I know that the Puritans can help me in my "quest for godliness."

Packer is a prolific writer and it is sometimes difficult to get beyond one of his introductions in the many books that he has written. It is not because of poor writing that working through one of his introductions is so difficult, but because his words sting with conviction. If you don't believe me read his introduction in the Banner of Truth edition of Baxter's The Reformed Pastor.  What follows is a selection about the family from chapter 1 of Quest. Read it and then repent in sackcloth and ashes.

Steadily Love Your Spouse as Your Best Friend
The Puritan ethic of marriage was to look not for a partner whom you do love passionately at this moment, but rather for one whom you can love steadily as your best friend for life, and then to proceed with God's help to do just that.
Train up and Care for Your Children. 
The Puritan ethic of nurture was to train up children in the way they should go, to care for their bodies and souls together, and to educate them for sober, godly, socially useful adult living. The Puritan ethic of home life was based on maintaining order, courtesy, and family worship. Goodwill, patience, consistency, and an encouraging attitude were seen as the essential domestic virtues.
Family Life is a School of Character Developed Through Suffering 
In an age of routine discomforts, rudimentary medicine without pain-killers, frequent bereavements (most families lost at least as many children as they reared), an average life expectancy of just under thirty years, and economic hardship for almost all save merchant princes and landed gentry, family life was was a school for character in every sense, and the fortitude with which the Puritans resisted the all-too-familiar temptation to relieve pressure from the world by brutality at home, and laboured to honor God in their families despite all, merits supreme praise.At home the Puritans showed themselves mature, accepting hardships and disappointments realistically as from God and refusing to be daunted or soured by any of them.
Share the Gospel at Home First 
Also it was at home in the first instance that the Puritan layman practised evangelism and ministry. 'His family he endeavored to make a Church,' wrote Geree,  '. . . labouring that those that were born in it, might be born again until God.'
Don't be a Chicken-hearted Spouse Who Looks for the Exit 
In an era in which family life has become brittle even among Christians, with chicken-hearted spouses taking the easy course of separation rather than working at their relationship, and narcissistic parents spoiling their children materially while neglecting them spiritually, there is once more much to be learned from the Puritans' very different ways.
Charles Spurgeon died with 7,000 (out of 12,000 total) volumes on his shelves that were either by or about the Puritans. Perhaps you would benefit from reading a Puritan volume or two. Packer's Quest will get you excited about reading and benefiting from the Puritans.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministry. He leads Bible conferences, marriage retreats, and various other events. Message him on Facebook to schedule an event.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Encouragement for the Afflicted and Those Who Minister to Them

What is a Christian to do when confined to the sick-bed of affliction? I remember visiting a church member a number of years ago. Due to physical affliction she was unable to attend church. I detected a note of discouragement as she spoke to me. She wished that she could do more for the church but her condition squelched her abilities. She said: "About all that I can do is pray." I took the opportunity to remind her of the great gift and power of godly prayer. I sought to encourage her that when she prayed for the church, she was calling on the King of Heaven to visit His people with His power, and that was no small thing.

Charles Spurgeon had a great heart for those who were confined to their dwelling due to sickness. Many of his sick friends, though unable to attend church service, nevertheless read Spurgeon's sermons. His words are encouraging to those who are afflicted and are instructive to all who minister to them.

Sick saints, what a delight I feel in ministering to you! Shut out from the sanctuary and the sound of the Word, you find a solace in reading what others have crowded to hear. Accept my tenderest sympathy in your affliction, while I breathe the prayer that He who suffers in you, may abide with you. The Great Captain of the host has called you to glorify Him on your beds; it may be you could never have done this in active service; what a mercy is it that a sick chamber affords you opportunities to honour Him. Your patience, holy resignation, and joyous faith, make you invaluable teachers to those believers who visit you, and even your ungodly friends may be greatly blessed by your means. Little do you dream how well your words are remembered, and how powerful they will be even when you have fallen asleep in Jesus. From the green mound in the cemetery your loving voice shall sound in their ears. Those very persons who now seem so indifferent, may be the first to be converted by your testimony. Speak well of your Lord; you see Him often, let His name be ever in your mouth. He makes your bed; let your bosom be a pillow for Him. Let your chamber be a sanctuary, your bed a pulpit, your living loving experience of divine grace the constant sermon. We cannot do without you in the Lord's battles. Your power for good is wonderful; forget not your advantageous position, but lift up the banner of your Lord on high. Let no persons retire from your bedside without being enriched by some affectionate admonition. In the night-watches, when your eyes are held walking so that you cannot sleep, plead for the Church, the world, your minister, your friends, and do not omit the unworthy brother who now writes to you. What showers of mercies your intercessions may bring down. The golden keys of heaven are at your girdle, open the treasury and bless us all. 'As the sufferings of Christ abound in you, so may your consolation also abound by Christ.

Sick saints . . .
1. Read the Bible and read godly literature.
2. Recognize your unique opportunity to glorify God from your sick bed.
3. Your patience and joy under trial is an example to fellow believers.
4. Unbelievers are blessed by your testimony of grace.
5. Your Christian witness will live on after you are dead.
6. "Speak well of your Lord" as you rest in Him. Let your bed be a pulpit.
7. Remember that your fellow believers who are not confined "cannot do without you in the Lord's battles."

To those who minister to the sick . . .

1. Do not fail to remember them in prayer.
2. Make sure that your sick friends have access to sermons (a manuscript, your notes, audio/video).
3. Visit the sick regularly and write to them often words of encouragement.
4. Let them know, how much you need for them to pray for you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Spurgeon's Counsel: Don't Think about Preaching

Many pastors find it difficult to read the Bible without thinking of sermon preparation. Spurgeon shared with his congregation how he delighted in Jesus by not considering preaching. He wrote:
When I take my Bible, and want to feed on it for myself, I generally get thinking about preaching upon the text, and what I should say to you from it. This will not do; I must get away from that, and forget that there is a Tabernacle, that I may sit personally at Jesus' feet. And, oh, there is an intense delight in being overshadowed by Him! He is near to you, and you know it. His dear presence is as certainly with you as if you could see Him, for His influence surrounds you.

When you read your Bible, are you able to feed on it for yourself? Certainly Spurgeon spent time in sermon preparation. However, he knew that sermons best grew in soil that had been cultivated through personal Bible reading. For Spurgeon this was to "sit personally at Jesus' feet" and to know the "intense delight in being overshadowed by Him."

Quotes are from C.H. Spurgeon, Till He Come: Communion Meditations and Addresses (London: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 44.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Vacation Thought or Two

Do you have Summer vacation plans?  It is often imagined that a vacation is an escape from life, at least an escape from the daily grind. However, for Christians a vacation is not an escape but rather an opportunity to encounter Jesus. Below are a few items to pack for such an encounter.

1. Psalms By the Day: A New Devotional Translation by Alec Motyer. I have long wanted someone to write this book. Psalms is "a working translation with analysis and explanatory notes, and a 'Pause for Thought' based on the passage read. Motyer's Psalms includes brief word studies, commentary, and devotional thoughts. Mark Dever writes, ". . . expository without being dry, devotional without being forced. . . . a delicious combination--richly full, concisely put."

2. Spurgeon, C.H. Til He Come: Communion Meditations and Addresses, London: Marshal Brothers, n.d. This is also available on Kindle and Christian Focus Publishers. Spurgeon urges his readers: "Go forth, beloved, and talk with Jesus on the beach, for He oft resorted to the sea-shore." This collection of meditations and addresses were not published in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit and a number of them were given while Spurgeon was on vacation (recovering, resting) at Mentone, France (his favorite vacation spot).

3. Field Notes journal (48 page memo book). The Field Notes memo book will easily fit into your pocket. They offer a variety of designs and one edition that is waterproof. As you read and admire God's glory in creation, make a few notes for meditation.

The resources above are available through our book store. Send me a facebook message HERE for more information.  Happy traveling!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Graduation Day

Over the past three years of doctoral studies, I have often thought of this day. For at least twenty years, I dreamed of graduating from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). Today is graduation day.

When this journey began, I knew that the way ahead would be difficult. Having assurance that my wife Lori was on board, and enjoying the encouragement of our church, I decided, after prayer and counsel, to take the plunge. I cannot adequately describe my appreciation for the love, encouragement, and prayers that I have received from so many people. Breathing the refreshing air of God's grace at SBTS has helped me in more ways that I can recount in this post. I have been pushed, stretched, challenged, and had my work sent back to me with seemingly more mark-ups than the actual text that I submitted. One time in particular, I thought about quitting, imagining that with all of my responsibilities that school was too much. I felt (and feel) inadequate, too old, and lacking sufficient brain power and physical strength. God used my family, church, and professors to pick me up, dust me off, and push me back into the ring to fight again. I am thankful.

The history of SBTS is one of sacrifice, dogged determination, and God's grace. It was primarily 4 leaders, who simply refused to quit, that put the school on their backs and sacrificed time, money, sleep, and worldly acclaim to do their dead-level-best to make sure that if the seminary didn't make it, it wouldn't be due to lack of effort. Those men were often tempted with offers that "they could not refuse" in the midst of scant times at SBTS. They were offered, in some cases, the opportunity to lead major (well-endowed) universities (such as the University of Alabama), and other high profile and generously salaried positions. However, they refused to let go of Southern Seminary. Though the seminary began in 1859, it struggled through the remainder of the 1800s. And though eventually the school established financial stability, its theological vibrancy faced the deadly threat of liberalism. By the early 1990s SBTS was in the grip of liberal leadership and seemingly beyond recovery. However, through the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, R. Albert Mohler was elected as the 9th president of the school in 1993. 

At Dr. Mohler's first commencement service, many students refused to shake his hand. Some students turned their back on him. Once again Southern was facing a fight for survival, this time it was not a financial crisis but a battle for the soul of the institution. Dr. Mohler, looking to the Abstract of Principles, held professors accountable to teach by the school's confession. Over time many of the more moderate/liberal professors resigned, or were fired. Liberal students graduated and new professors were hired. SBTS is a much different place today than it was in 1993 when 33-year-old Albert Mohler was elected president. It is much more in line with the 1859 vision of the founders.

There is much on my mind this morning as I write. I have a growing sense of the sacrifices that have been made so that I can, at age 54, walk across the stage today and receive a diploma from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Soon after the War Between the States, the future of SBTS was in great doubt. Basil Manly, John Broadus, William Williams, and James Boyce met to decide the future. Broadus courageously declared: "Suppose we quietly agree that the seminary may die, but we'll die first." Though classes were suspended during the War, SBTS reopened on 11/1/1865. I will remember the words of Broadus when I graduate today.

You can watch graduation Friday at 10 at   Here is a video that recounts Dr. Mohler's presidency: 

See Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: 1859-2009 by Gregory A. Wills to learn more about the history of SBTS.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 14: Change Your Ring Tone

14 Days of Love
Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here
Day 12: Discussion Points: Here
Day 13: The Journey: Here

Day 14 is simple. Assign a special ring tone on your cell phone for your spouse. When Lori calls me I hear: "O Most Beautiful Among Women." Many times, I have been in a public setting and my phone rings: "Call from O Most Beautiful  Among Women." Its quite a conversation starter and a reminder to me of how blessed that I am.

Scan back through the previous 13 days with your spouse.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 13: The Journey

A few years back--somewhere along our journey

I wrote the following post on 2-15-2014. It is to my wife Lori and about our marriage. For reasons known to Lori and me, it seems especially relevant at this present time in our journey. Read this with your spouse and take 15 minutes to discuss together how "easy is not all it is cracked up to be." On this Valentine's Eve--recount your story together.

It might have been easier, had love never broken the exterior; if like a rock skipping across water, we had only lived life on the surface in a tidy and comfortable romance. If we had embraced the smiles and fought the tears, it might have been easier.

Yet easier, it has not been. We have felt the plow turn the ground and break our hearts. The laughs have been mingled with salty tears.

When we started this journey, we didn't know. People told us of trials to come, but we could not really see them, until we tasted them. We did not think much about going to bed angry, hurt, disappointed, and disillusioned. Seldom did we imagine a life where the rocks didn't simply skip from one happiness to the next.

How can I forget the week that my heart was ripped out? You came home as the week ended. There was nothing that I could say, but you let me draw near to you. Friends had disappeared. A million smiles could not fix me. Your arms got me through. 

Then there was the day, now chiseled deep on our hearts that we called the children to our room. They found a place on our bed. We shared with them a hard story of loss. The news was familiar, but this time it penetrated deeper. We cried, we prayed, we held each other. It was not easy.

What could have prepared us for that season--when we seldom could enjoy one another's company? The days ran into weeks. We will never forget the drops of grace that sustained us. A meal proved to be the bread of life. It was not easy.

But, we have held our babies. We have retreated to quiet places. The waters of the beach have tickled our toes. The sounds of an old hymn have squeezed out the tears and then taken us to the heavens. We have known the grace of God. His grace was there when the flowers wilted and it surrounded us when roses covered the meadow.

It is often so noisy. There is seldom a quiet place. It is not easy. But, how we love the noise; the smells, the colors, the chatter, the music, the requests, and the appointments. Even the unfolded laundry--reminds us of our life together--still unfinished, still wrinkled-- but gathered with love.

It could have been easier. But then, no faith would have been required. And we would not have known the love that we now know. What if our path had not been redirected on that day when we were imagining a time with just the two of us? What if the nest had soon emptied and the birds left for new lands? It would have been much easier. 

And now at night, I pull you close. We keep each other warm. It would be cold, had it been easy. We are close. And through the walls and up the stairs our precious ones rest. It is not easy for them either. They have walked and will travel rocky and lonely roads. It won't be easy, but they will love. They are loved. 

Stay close. Easy is not all that it is cracked up to be. 

Happy Valentine's Day

14 Days of Love
Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here
Day 12: Discussion Points: Here