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Heaven’s HR Department

Human Resource departments fill three necessary purposes fHr deptor the workplace: compensation, staffing and designing work. The goal is to “maximize the productivity of an organization by optimizing the effectiveness of its employees.”

Heaven has the perfect HR Department.

Paul was on his way to strengthen the churches he and Barnabas had previously seen take root in Syria and Cilicia. From the familiar places, he and his teammate Silas wanted to press on to unfamiliar places: Asia, Bithynia and further, Lord willing. He wasn’t. In fact, the Holy Spirit forbade Paul to “speak the word in Asia.” Wow! Turning to Mysia with his target Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” Again, wow!

What’s going on? Doesn’t the Lord love people in Asia and want to save them through the gospel? Are they not part of the Great Commission’s instruction to disciple the nations?

Yes, heaven’s HR Department, headed by the sovereign Spirit of Jesus, aims to maximize the work of the church in the Great Commission. The Spirit always directs the right resources to the right places at the right times. After being told “No” twice, I can imagine Paul planting himself on a park bench with Silas and saying, “OK, Lord. We’ll just wait for your next assignment to come to our In-box.” It came that night. In a vision. Paul saw a Macedonian man appealing to him with a special invitation: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Paul and Silas left immediately and made it to Philippi. And what an assignment it was! The Lord opened the heart of a business woman who immediately became a believer. A demon-possessed girl, a money-maker for her occult masters, followed Paul around like an annoying, yapping puppy: “These men are the bondservants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” Paul was miffed; annoyed actually. A lot. So, he turned to the spirit in the girl and in Jesus’ name commanded the spirit to come out of her. He did! She was delivered. She became a believer. She quit her day job.

But her masters were even more annoyed because their money stream dried up as quickly as the demon took flight. They stirred up the chief leaders of the city. Paul was arrested, beaten with rods (punishment due for all but Roman citizens) and thrown into prison. Sitting in the bottom of a dank jail cell, singing hymns of praise to God with Silas, entertaining all the prisoners, God provides an earthquake to remove chains and doors and set the prisoners free.

The Roman guard knew what this meant: The Roman HR Department would dispatch him to Hades, the Roman underworld for losing his prisoners! He was about to fall on his sword when Paul stopped him assuring him they were all still present and accounted for. A quick word about how to be saved and another Christian was spiritually born.

The grateful guard took Paul and Silas to his house, cleaned their wounds, fed them and they had a baptism service for the whole household.

The membership of Philippi’s first Christian church was three unlikely people: a business woman, a formerly demon-possessed girl, and a near-retirement Roman soldier.

But here’s why the Spirit of Jesus blocked Paul and moved him to this city.

When the city fathers found out that Paul, a full-fledged Roman citizen, was illegally beaten with rods, a punishment reserved to all non-Romans as second-class citizens, they sheepishly and quietly asked him to leave town through the back door. Paul wouldn’t have it. He wanted a public apology from the Magistrate, not his intermediaries, and a Magistrate’s escort out of town in full view of the city population.

Pride? Revenge? Christian demands for justice? No. You see, Paul wanted public recognition that the new church was not a threat to the Empire. He used his Roman citizenship as personal proof that Christianity isn’t about breaking laws or making trouble for the city. Christianity saves lives and improves cultures. The public apology and escort by the magistrates calmed fears and put the church in a positive light.

Peter, John, James or the other apostles could not provide this legal cover for the fledgling church the way Paul could. Heaven’s HR Department knew that and sent the right man, at the right time, with the proper credentials and competencies to secure the future of the Philippian church.

The HR Department of heaven takes the long view of discipling the nations. Someone in their files would tackle Asia and Bithynia. China, Burma, and India had to wait for Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson and William Carey.

So, when you apply for that job in Texas and don’t get it but you get the one in Minnesota, it’s just Heaven’s HR Department doing what it does best. Sending the right man, or woman, with the right qualifications to fulfill heaven’s assignment.

Church Life: Keep It Two Chevrons Apart

Hurry sickness plagues us all. Read this remedy.

Stephen McAlpine


As a pastor I make it my aim to encourage people to live life, and especially church life, in a “keep apart two chevrons” manner.  Let me explain.

If you’ve ever driven a UK motorway you’ll see the sign above as you hammer along at the usual twenty or thirty (miles) over the speed limit.  Chevron are those arrow signs, and they’re painted on the motorway for a good reason.

They’re there because the speed you are travelling will, over time, lull you into thinking you are not going as fast as you are.  It’s called speed intoxication.  It’s that feeling you get when you go slow down to go through a country town in rural Australia after two hours at maximum speed limit on an open road.  It feels like you’re crawling, until of course you hit something, or someone, and then you realise that 60kmh is just as…

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8 Considerations for Contemporary Worship from Chronicles

You may not think 1 Chronicles would be a place to find guidance for contemporary worship. After all, isn’t the book steeped in lots of language about rituals and rules and prescriptions?

Yes, but . . .Dancing David

Let’s remember the first audience to read 1 Chronicles – the returned exiles. The Jews spent years in exile, away from their homeland and the temple where God dwelled and now many of them were home. The important point to be made is this: how they came to be exiled was not lost on them. It was as fresh in their minds as if it happened yesterday. The sting still smarted. They were guilty and they knew it. Now that God made the way for their return, what they wanted to know was how not or never have it happen again. They knew what went wrong, now they wanted to get it right.

That’s the all-important historic frameworkof the story about David returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. David did a few things wrong but lots of things right. It wasn’t just about the prescriptions for the transportation of the Ark, but about the prescriptions for the heart.

So, without unpacking all that goes into these two summary chapters (15 and 16), here’s eight things we can learn from the episode in Israel’s life that applies to contemporary Christian worship.

  1. Contemporary worship no longer requires Mosaic rules or regulations. David didn’t pay attention to the Law of Moses that proscribed that the Levites carry the Ark on their shoulders. David ordered a new cart drawn by oxen to transport the Ark. When the oxen stumbled, the Ark toppled, Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark, God became angry and killed Uzzah. David was angry at God’s anger but later got the proscription right. All that to say, we are no longer obligated to Mosaic Law. Even though we know this, it’s important to know why – Jesus is the center of worship. He fulfilled all the rules and regulations of the temple because he replaces the temple. This must be stated up front even though there is no evidence in these two chapters. Jesus takes care of this in John 4.
  2. Reverence for God is still required. David knew that his anger at the Lord’s anger for “breaking out against Uzzah” was unwarranted and he replaced it with the proper response of the fear of the Lord. Our worship must rest on the same foundation of the fear of the Lord.
  3. Music! Music stirs the heart for worship and frees the lips to sing praises. The more musicians and singers the better! Luther was right: “I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God. The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In [summary] next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits.”
  4. Worship declares the judgments of God. Christ is to be praised for being the covenant promise that saves through the power and efficacy of his shed blood. That plan was God’s judgment since before the foundation of the world.
  5. Worship declares the miraculous deeds of God. God is to be praised for healing the man at the pool in Bethsaida (I’ve been reading John’s Gospel at the same time) as well as for healing the young mother with four children of cancer down the street. All God’s deeds, old and contemporary, are praise worthy.
  6. Worship declares the works of God. He is the God and Governor of creation, the life-giver (natural and eternal), our ransom from sin, the Savior and Redeemer.
  7. In worship, we condemn all idols. Jesus is above all other gods, to be held in awe because splendor and majesty and strength and joy satisfy the needs of our souls. Worship rids the soul of disordered lovers that still linger in our hearts.
  8. God’s work of salvation in Jesus is for all peoples of all nations to give them strength and joy.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!


10 Things Lambs Pray For

We have friends that are going to be with family members that are not Christians this Christmas. Some of their comments lead me to believe that they expect to feel the pressure of being a Christian in an unwelcoming environment. You know the feeling: like lambs led to the slaughter.

christmas-lambThe other day when I was reading my Bible, but not particularly thinking about the situations my friends would encounter, I read the story of Jesus sending out seventy-two disciples. He sent them ahead of him to the places where he intended to go. He told them this was a “harvest” situation and to pray earnestly “to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:1-12). He gave them specific instructions about what to bring, where to stay, with whom to stay and what to do when they got there. When the disciples returned, they were filled with joy and stories about what happened. The most notable story was that they experienced the dark powers of demons “subject to [them] in [Christ’s] name!” Talk about thrilling! What could be better than knowing the powers of darkness were no match for the authority of Jesus in their service? Well, Jesus told them what was better: “Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to  you but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Lambs will always be weak and vulnerable and led to the slaughter, even when they are fully dependent on Jesus’ name for power to serve the kingdom of God. And no matter what happens, your name has a permanence of place.

As I read the rest of the chapter that tells the story of Jesus’ making his way to Jerusalem “to be taken up,” it occurred to me that the whole chapter was instructive for the prayer life of lambs who will go into hospitable and inhospitable places where Christ is to be magnified.

Here are ten things lambs can  pray for as they go to those place:

  1. Pray to be a faithful laborer because there are never enough of us.
  2. Pray for direction to places where peaceful people live.
  3. Pray for the sick and those oppressed by the powers of darkness for healing and deliverance.
  4. Pray for personal protection – you’re a lamb after all in need of the Shepherd’s presence at all times. Wolves are everywhere!
  5. Pray that you keep the right perspective – it’s not about demons being subject to you, it’s about your name written in heaven. Rest in that.
  6. Pray for opportunities to be a lamb-like neighbor. Show mercy at all times – even when you don’t feel like it.
  7. Pray for time to experience the “good portion” of being a lamb at sitting at Jesus’ feet.
  8. Pray to be convinced about Satan’s defeat and that the Father has revealed to you his gracious will.
  9. Pray to bring the kingdom of God near wherever you are.
  10. Pray for the same determination that Jesus had to do the Father’s will.

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How Do We Magnify the Lord?

telescopes Mary’s song is known as the Magnificat, taken from the first words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” How do we magnify God? Is it only with words? Luke portrays Mary as the model disciple who magnifies God with her life, too. In the simplest terms, to magnify the Lord means to “make much of Jesus,” as John Piper has defined it. We make Jesus big and attractive and admired by our words and actions and even in our thoughts.[1]

Piper reminds us that there are two kinds of magnifying: microscope magnifying and telescope magnifying.[2] The first makes small things look bigger than they are. The other makes big things that are far away look as big as they really are. “When David says ‘I will praise the name of God in song; I will magnify God with thanksgiving,’ he doesn’t mean, ‘I will make a small God look bigger than he is.’ He means, ‘I will make a big God look as big as he is with the ways I show and speak my gratitude,'” and I would add, bring him near so others can admire his value.

Piper uses this helpful analogy by calling Christians to become telescopes, not microscopes. Here is the idea for an application to our lives: our calling is to live in such a way that our lives make God look as great and as valuable as he really is and bring him near to others. What does that look like? According to Luke, Mary is our example.

In Mary, we see an example of someone who developed a life that does just that. As I reflected on Mary as a model of someone who makes much of God, I saw a pattern of five activities from her life that when combined have the power to transform us into telescopes of God’s worth.

  1. We make much of God by meditating on his word.[3] Mary “steeped” herself in God’s word through the practice of meditation. Christian meditation is like a tea bag steeping in hot water. Two things happen to steeped tea bags: they transform the color and taste of the water. God’s word transforms the way we think, act, and “taste” to others. This is the only way to account for the content of Mary’s song which has nearly fifty direct references or allusions to the OT Scriptures.[4] She let God’s word draw her in and rewrite the direction of her life. Mary let God’s word reshape her soul’s thinking and renew her affections for him. As a result, Mary had a mind and heart filled with a God-saturated theology.
  2. We make much of God by treasuring his promises.[5] Mary understood that God’s grace is mined by treasuring his promises. She kept alive all the events of the birth of Jesus, the words of Gabriel, the visits of the shepherds and Magi, the words of Simeon, and Anna and no doubt the words of Scripture. She held onto all these as from the Lord to help her face the most challenging times of her life during the ministry and execution of her Son. When we face the disappointments and confusion of life, treasuring God’s promises makes much of God because others would tell us to give up on him.
  3. We make much of God by serving him at the risk of reputation. What motivation did Mary have in the face of the inevitable spiteful gossip and crushing judgments of others? It was not from arguments against those judgments but the joy of serving the Lord in that way. She found personal strength and relief from fears as she put her trust in the mercy of God. She was quick and eager to do it because she savored the holy God whom she knew would not give her anything evil or unloving or impossible to endure. She knew that a holy God never makes mistakes in orchestrating the providences he brings into the lives of those humble enough to receive it.
  4. We make much of God by expressing gratitude for his mercy. Gratitude marks the heart of the person who loves God’s mercy. Knowing God’s mercy the way she did enabled Mary to accept from God’s hands even his mysterious providences. When we don’t understand what God is doing in our lives, we make much of him by expressing gratitude for his mercies.
  5. We make much of God by encouraging others in the obedience of faith. This is a practice that she shared with Elizabeth. Both women were eager to visit, not so much for the confirmation of the work of God, but as a way of encouraging each other in their respective roles in God’s plans. Their praise for God and for each other’s faith gave mutual strength to continue in their obedience.

As we enter into this Christmas season that is sometimes more a distraction to magnifying the Lord than a help, reflecting on Mary’s life as an example for our own worship and praise will bring us back to center. Mary’s focus was centered on the God who sent his Son into the world to save sinners and praised him for his mercy.

Remember: the calling of the Christian is to become a telescope for the world to “look through” and see the infinite wealth and value of the glory of God.

[1]1 Cor 10:31.

[2]John Piper, “How to Magnify God” [on-line]; accessed 5 December 2016; available from; Internet.

[3]Luke 1:29; 2:19, 51.

[4]Verse 41 = Gen 25:22-28; Malachi 4:2; v. 42 = Judges 5:24; Deut 28:1, 4; v. 43 = Ps 110:1; 2 Samuel 6:9; vv. 46-47 = Ps 34:1-3; Isaiah 26:9; Job 12:10; Daniel 3:39; 1 Sam 2:1; Habakkuk 3:18; v. 48 = Deut 22:23-23; 26:7;  1 Sam 1:11; 2:1-10;  9:16; v. 49 = Zephaniah 3:17; Deut 10:21; Isaiah 47:4; 57:15; Ezekiel 36:22-25; Malachi 1:11; v. 50 = Ps 103:17; v. 51 = Exodus 6:1, 6; Deut 3:24; 7:19; Isa 51:5, 9; 53:1; Ps 88:1; v.52 = Ezk  12:26; Ps 107:9; 1 Sam 2:5; Job 15:29; Jer 17:11; v. 54-55; Isa 41:8-9; 42:1; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3; Pss 97:3; 98:3; Micah 7:20.

[5]Luke 2:19.

22 Prayers for Your Bible Reading

kristen wetherell

Reading the Bible before praying is like putting the cart before the horse.

The proverbial horse is the Holy Spirit of God, who empowers and enlightens our Bible reading as we mine the depths of his Word. The proverbial cart makes up our willing eyes and hungry hearts, the Spirit-led choice to crack open our Bibles and pursue his everlasting truth.

The cart must be pulled by the horse; our efforts to read must be motivated and helped by God’s grace and power. Christians come to God’s Word willing and hungry because he first made us willing and hungry to receive—but only he can enable us to receive. This is why we ask for help before we start reading.

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Mocking the Toilet Habits of the Progressive gods

Such a good article!

Stephen McAlpine

…27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. 

…36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.37 Answer me, O Lord

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A New Year’s Resolution: Pray for your Pastor

large_praying_handsap-pre-ci-a-tion – n. 1. Recognition of the quality, value, significance, or magnitude of. 2. A judgment or opinion, esp. a favorable one. 3. An expression of gratitude. 4. Awareness or perceptions, esp. of aesthetic qualities or values. 5. An increase in value or price. (Webster’s II: New College Dictionary, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1995).

October, known as Pastor’s Appreciation Month, is passed and you might be wondering what to “get” for your pastor this year? Here’s a suggestion: don’t get him anything, do something for him. Pray. Pray for him, his family and his ministry because it directly affects you. (If you don’t believe me read Hebrews 13:17).

Speaking candidly as a pastor who has received numerous cards and handwritten notes and email expressions of appreciation in October and generous gifts from grateful people at Christmas, it is becoming increasingly important to me that people spend time at the throne of grace for me.

If you are a church member and you want to appreciate your pastor for the next eleven months, and do yourself some good in the meantime, pray for him. Let me let you in on a little secret. Any pastor worth his salt (or salary) will tell you that prayer from those to whom he ministers is a great comfort.

What caused me to think of this was the biography of Charles Simeon (1750-1836) who was vehemently opposed by the church (Holy Trinity, Cambridge) to which he was assigned as a young man. He endured twelve years of opposition but never complained and remained steadfast in the ministry of the word. Some of the quotes below will give you insight into this remarkable pastor’s spiritual life. Use them to consider how to pray for your pastor from head to toe:

His mind

Your pastor’s mind is one of his “tools” for biblical exposition. But more than that, his mind is also in need of the Spirit’s renewal! His mind is the target of the enemy, too. Just like you, his mind needs renewing in the truths of Scripture (Rom 12:1-2).

Simeon wrote: “In the beginning of my inquiries I said to myself, ‘I am a fool; of that I am quite certain.’ One thing I know assuredly, that in religion of myself I know nothing. I do not therefore sit down to the perusal of Scripture in order to impose a sense on the inspired writers, but to receive one, as they give it me. I pretend (sc. claim) not to teach them, I wish like a child to be taught by them.”[1]

The life of the mind was important to Simeon: “There is nothing in the whole universe to be compared with the scriptures of truth, nothing that will so enrich the mind, nothing that will so benefit the soul. To treasure them up in our minds should be our daily and most delightful employment. Not a day should pass without adding to their blessed store and not only in memory and mind, but in heart and soul.”[2]

His eyes

There’s lots of things to see in this world, but his eyes need God’s protection from “worthless things” (Ps 101:3; 119:37). Pray for him that he will long to see God’s salvation (Ps 119:127).

His ears

Our world is filled with sounds. A pastor hears many things, both good and bad. Pray that he will have ears that hear the word of God carefully (Ps 44:1; 78:1). Pray that his ears never grow dull to biblical truth (Matt 13:15, 16; 11:15). Pray that God’s ear will be open to his cries (Ps 130:2).

His mouth

Pastors preach. They must think, create words and communicate them to you. Pray that God will use him as his mouthpiece of wisdom for your good (Ps 37:30). If your pastor can sing, pray that his mouth will be filled with a new song of praise (Ps 40:3; 51:15). Even if he can’t sing, pray that his heart will be filled with melodies to the Lord (Eph 5:19). Pray that God’s Word will taste like sweet honey to his mouth (Ps 119:103).

From Simeon: “Repentance is in every view so desirable, so necessary, so suited to honor God that I seek that above all. The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears. I long to be in my proper place, my hand on my mouth, and my mouth in the dust . . . . I feel this to be safe ground. Here I cannot err . . . . I am sure that whatever God may despise (and I fear that there is much which passes under the notion of religious experience the will not stand very high in his estimation), he will not despise the broken and contrite heart. I love the picture of the heavenly hosts, both saints and angels: all of them are upon their faces before the throne. I love the Cherubim with their wings before the faces and their fee . . . .Go me I feel that this is the proper posture now, and will be to all eternity.”

His heart

Jesus said that out of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). Pray that his heart will remain steadfast for the work given him by the Lord (Ps 57:7; 108:1). We all have experienced divided hearts, loving the Lord one day and far from him the next. Pray that your pastor, who also experiences these temptations, will be given a “united heart” (Ps 88:1). Pray that he will rejoice (Ps 19:8) and meditate in pleasing ways before the Lord (Ps 19:14).

Pray that your pastor will have the heart of a disciple. Simeon wrote: “The attainment of divine knowledge we are directed to combine a dependence on God’s Spirit with our own researches. Let us then not presume to separate what God has thus united.”[3]

His hands

Hands are for working. We use them every day, all day. Pray that your pastor’s hands are clean and his heart pure (Ps 24:4). Pray that he will take time for prayer and worship (Pss 28:2; 63:4; 143:6). Pray that God will give him courage and strength for his work (Luke 9:62). Pray that he clings to Christ (Ps 119:31).

Simeon wrote: “Standing as I do on the very brink and precipice of the eternal world, I desire nothing so much as a broken and contrite spirit. . . . I hang upon the Savior, as actually perishing without his unbounded mercy and unintermitted care. I look to him as the very chief of sinners; and in this frame of mind I find perfect peace . . . . this is ‘the religion of a sinner at the foot of the cross.’”[4]

His feet

Typically, biblical writers use feet as a metaphor for our conduct in the world. Your pastor needs prayer so that his feet won’t slip from faithfulness to God (Ps 17:5; 18:33, 36; 73:2). Pray that he is guarded and guided from evil (Ps 119:101). Pray that God’s word will be a lamp to his feet (Ps 119:105).

Merry Christmas!



[1]Charles Simeon, Evangelical Preaching (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1990), xxxii. John Stott, who is reported to have patterned his life and ministry after Simeon’s, wrote the “Introduction” to this volume of sermons.

[2]Simeon, Preaching, xxxvi

[3]Simeon, Preaching, xxxvi

[4]Simeon, Preaching, xl-xli.

Are you tired of hearing about sin?


It only happened to me one other time. I’ve been preaching regularly for the last thirty or so years. It’s a great privilege for which I have no credentials or pedigree for the assignment. I know it is from God. I enjoy the study. I enjoy praying for preaching. I enjoy the preaching event in a worship service. I enjoy hearing how God spoke to a listener and how their lives have been changed, even if just a little more.

I can’t remember every sermon, just like listeners can’t. From week to week, most of us can’t remember what the pastor preached. But that is not as important as you might think. After all, if your wife has faithfully prepared you an evening meal for the last thirty or so years, can you remember each one? Probably not. But each one nourished your body and kept you going. Every now and then, one or two meals stick out in your mind – just like sermons.

So what has happened to me recently that happened only one other time? I have been told that “some in our congregation are tired of hearing about sin.” The first time I heard some complaining about sin was not exactly the same thing. Then I was told by an elder not to preach about sin or get too theological. He assured me that the small group leaders would handle “the heavy stuff in their small groups.”

What prompted this latest complaint? I’ve been preaching through the first four chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. No wonder people might say they are tired of hearing about sin. By my calculations (I am not great mathematician!), 57% of the total number of verses in these chapters speak directly to or allude to the human problem of sin. No wonder people are complaining. Think how Paul must have felt writing these chapters. I bet he couldn’t wait to get to 3:21 that says, “but now a righteousness from heaven has been revealed.” Whew! What a relief to hear that God saves the ungodly like David and Abraham. After darkness light!

A friend of mine who analyzes public speakers and especially preachers, told me he listened to a number of my sermons on line and discovered something interesting. As he listened to the audience, he heard what he called “murmuring” when the subject of sin was addressed. He said there was a “grumbling” in the ambient noise of the auditorium. Here’s the sad part. If he is right, he is hearing Christians grumbling about sin. Not discontent about their sin, but grumbling about having to hear about it.

Now, I will admit to a great storehouse of naiveté. Romans is the gospel; good news from beginning to end for congregations hungry to know God intimately. It is a great comfort and an important letter for New Testament believers that will build faith and endurance in the Christian life. It’s the book that drove Luther to the grace of the gospel. I believed it would be a great blessing to believers to hear about “so great a salvation.” Preaching what is there should humble the Christians with great joy in their saving God. He saved us from our sins and continues to save us from our sins and will ultimately save us from sin. His grace is written between every line of Romans and bursts forth often with explicit hope.

So, why would Christians complain that they are tired of hearing about sin? Indeed, we should be tired of sin but should we tire of hearing how God solves our sin problem? In order to hear about the solution, we must hear about the problem to be solved.

One morning, my wife stopped me in what I was doing. She told me she has something to read to me. Right now. I had to listen. I stopped and listened. She read from that classic book that is in so many Christian homes, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. Here’s what Chambers said:

If through your preaching you convince me that I am unholy, I then resent your preaching. The preaching of the gospel awakens an intense resentment because it is designed to reveal my unholiness, but it also wakens an intense yearning and desire within me. God has only one intended destiny for mankind – holiness. His only goal is to produce saints. God is not some eternal blessing-machine for people to use, and He did not come to save us out of pity – He came to save us because He created us to be holy. Atonement through the Cross of Christ means that God can put me back into perfect oneness with Himself through the death of Jesus Christ, without a trace of anything coming between us any longer.[1]

Chambers was not specifically talking about preaching but the Christian priority of living a godly life. The word of God that reminds us of our sin is a good word. Sin reminds us that nothing is wrong day after day after day and wants us to be blind to its threat. To hear about our sin once a week and its divine solution is enough to war against sin’s lie and overcome its devious promises. No doubt, there are hard sayings in the Scriptures. But in the hands of the Comforter, who wrote the book, the remaining sins of the believer’s heart are his to reveal and to heal. He leads us in the fight against sin by ushering us to the rich mercies of Christ. The Spirit also convicts unsaved sinners of their sin so that they might run to Christ for forgiveness and freedom from sin. How often I have heard new believers testify how grateful they are to God for forgiving them and cleansing them of their sin. They feel relief, peace and warmly welcomed by their heavenly Father.

Perhaps after the passing of time, Christians have forgotten how wonderful were the words they heard upon their conversion: “Go and sin no more.”

[1]Oswald Chambers, ed. By James Reimann, My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1963), n. p., September 1.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Altar Calls

the altar callWhen Billy Graham visited London for a Crusade in 1954-55, a number of theologically liberal churches participated because they believed the Crusade was a pragmatic way of increasing their church numbers. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the sole British evangelical who declined the invitation to participate. The major issue for Lloyd-Jones was Graham’s ecumenical spirit and “liberal” view of salvation. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was not pleased with Lloyd-Jones’ decision. It was not until the summer of 1963 that the two men met and talked in the vestry at Westminster Chapel. After some conversation, Lloyd-Jones made a proposal to Graham:

“I said I’d make a bargain: if he would stop the general sponsorship of his campaigns – stop having liberals and Roman Catholics on the platform – and drop the invitation system, I would wholeheartedly support him and chair the [World] Congress. We talked for about three hours, but he didn’t accept these conditions.”[1]

In fact, Graham wrote to Lloyd-Jones in July the same year. Murray says that had Graham followed “the counsel he had been given would have meant a very major reversal of policy. One can only assume from the outcome that he concluded that his work would lose more than it could gain if he cut off the liberal and developing Catholic support, together with the public call for decision.”

It would be another nine years before Lloyd-Jones put pen to paper and made his thoughts known about the “altar call” in chapter fourteen of his book Preaching and Preachers (1971).[2] Retired from pastoral ministry by then, Lloyd-Jones was still busy training men for the preaching ministry. By 1971, the “altar call” was a dominant means for evangelism. Lloyd-Jones revealed that he had been “chided” even “reprimanded” “because I have not made an appeal for immediate decisions. Some of them would go so far as to say that I had been guilty of sin, that an opportunity had been created by my own preaching but that I had not taken advantage of it” (269). In addition, he told of a number of ministers who had been told that when they did not give an appeal, they had not preached the gospel. Some ministers were called to churches or not called on the basis of their practice of giving the altar call.

Lloyd-Jones knew church history almost as well as he knew the Bible. He gave serious thought to the whole consideration of altar calls. In the chapter “Calling for Decisions” he tackles the subjects of the manipulative use of music, lights and appeals for sinners to make a decision. He gave ten reasons for his avoidance of doing anything that would “condition the meeting and the people for the reception of our message” other than the proclamation itself. (265) His first and last appeal was to “an Arminian like John Wesley and others did not use this method” (271, 76).

Without much explanation, here are Lloyd-Jones’ ten reasons for avoiding the altar call.

1. Preachers should not put direct pressure on the will. Romans 6:17 says that obedience to God’s word comes from the heart due to the influence of “form of teaching,” that is the truth addressed primarily to the mind. It is as the mind grasps the truth, understands it, and the affections are kindled and moved, so “in turn the will is persuaded and obedience is the outcome” (271).  Obedience is not the result of appeals to the will but the result of an “enlightened mind and a softened heart.”

2. The danger of mistaking the source of the response. Too much pressure on the will may determine a response that is based on the personality of the evangelist or some “vague general fear, or some other kind of psychological influence” (272).

3. The preaching of the Word and the call for decision should not be separated in our thinking. The emphasis on an appeal at the end of sermon is regarded as something in and of itself. Lloyd-Jones clarifies this reason at the end of the chapter when he writes, “the appeal must be in the Truth itself, and in the message. As you preach your sermon you should be applying it all the time . . . But the appeal is a part of the message; it should be so inevitably. The sermon should lead men to see that this is the only thing to do. The appeal should be implicit throughout the whole body of the sermon, and in all that you are doing” (282).

4. The method of the altar call carries with it an implication that sinners have the inherent power of decision and of self-conversion. Here Lloyd-Jones cites 1 Cor 2:14 and Eph 2:1.

5. Another danger: the evangelist is somehow in the position to manipulate the Holy Spirit and His work. “The evangelist has but to appear and to make his appeal and the results follow inevitably.” (Of course, that is exactly the thinking of Finney) (275).

6. The altar call tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin, “if any at all.” Lloyd-Jones gives an illustration from his own ministry in Wales. It’s humorous, sad and to the point. Well worth the read! Besides in our church cultures today, there is enough “lightness” about God’s holiness and human sin; we hardly need to add to it.

7. Another danger: the sinner may conclude that “going forward” saved them.

8. Another danger: “is not this practice based ultimately on a distrust of the Holy Spirit and His power and His work?” (277).

9. What do we think about the work of regeneration? “This to me is the most serious thing of all.” If salvation is a work of the Spirit then it is “His work alone, no one else can do it. The true work of conviction of sin, and regeneration, and the giving of the gift of faith and new life is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. And as it is His work it is always a thorough work; and it is always a work that will show itself.” That last statement is (in my mind) very important, too. We want to see the results of our labor. I do! But is it really that important that I know? If the work of conviction and regeneration is really going on, it will always show up in the lives of those who are saved. As the Doctor said, “It matters (that I know) from the standpoint of encouragement in the work, but it does not matter from the stand point of the work itself” (278).

10. A point of doctrine: “can a sinner really decide for Christ”? Lloyd-Jones aligned theologically and practically with the Puritans. On this point he wrote, “A sinner does not ‘decide’ for Christ; the sinner ‘flies’ to Christ in utter helplessness and despair saying – ‘Foul, I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Saviour, or I die’” (279).[3] The convicted sinner “no more ‘decides’ for Christ than the poor drowning man ‘decides to take hold of that trope that is thrown to him and suddenly provides him with the only means of escape” (280).

Lloyd-Jones questions the percentage of “decisions” that last. It was not high in his day; I suspect it’s not any higher today. Regardless, what can we say about the “altar call” responders who do come into our churches? In Lloyd-Jones’ day he observed a serious decline in true spiritual vitality. Same today. Compare this with what happens when real God-sovereign revivals or awakenings come to the church – Life! Evangelism! Growth! Urgent prayer! Ministries!  Mission!

Having given ten reasons for avoiding altar calls, Lloyd-Jones doesn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the proverbial water. He concludes with a way pastors can shepherd sinners to Christ and become part of his fold:

“I would say, without hesitation that a distinct and separate and special appeal at the end after a break, and after a hymn, should only be made when one is conscious of some overwhelming injunction of the Spirit of God to do so. If ever I feel that, I do it; but it is only then. And even then the way in which id o it is not to ask people to come forward; I just make it known that I am ready to see them at the end of the service or at any other time. Indeed I believe that the minister should always make an announcement in some shape or form that he is available to talk to anybody who wants to talk to him about their soul and its eternal destiny . . . Make yourself available, let it be known that you are available, and so you will find that people who have come under conviction of sin will come to speak to you because they are unhappy. Not infrequently they may be afraid to go home as they are. I have known people to go halfway home and then come back again to the church to see me because they could not endure the sense of conviction and unhappiness; the agony was too great.” (282)

Wouldn’t that be a lovely and blessed way to spend a Sunday afternoon or a Monday morning as Spurgeon did?

Praying with you for your pastor’s preaching to be used of the Spirit to draw sinners to Christ.

[1]Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 76.

[2]D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preachers and Preaching (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971).

[3]There are two other unfortunate expressions in our day: “You must make Christ Lord of your life.” When was Christ ever not Lord? When was he divided? Or a similar idea: “You must let Christ sit on the throne of your life.” How did I gain so much power that I could thwart the King of all kings to submit to my authority?