From Bedford Jail

Bedford Jail

In 1922 The Baptist Young Peoples Union of the Southern Baptist Convention, published a study course using John Bunyan’s classic “Pilgrims Progress.” The introduction included the image of the Bedford Jail (pictured above) and a brief biographical sketch (below). L P. Leavell, secretary of the BYPU, offered the course and said, “Certainly no young Baptist should be unacquainted with the greatest of all spiritual allegories. Its great word pictures grip the imagination and stir the soul and, at the same time, teach the fundamental doctrines of grace which Baptists hold so dear. Next to the Bible, possibly no book better deserves a place in a course prepared for young Christians.” You can access the text of Pilgrim’s Progress from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library and many other works at John Bunyan Online. Leavell prayed, “May the study of this book strengthen the faith and zeal of our Baptist young people and help them to realize that it is indeed ‘sweet to walk in this pilgrim way.'”

THE PREACHER WHO WROTE “THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS”

People have always loved a good story. But not until the year 1700 did the English speaking world have published a long story dealing with imaginary characters. “Robinson Crusoe” was published in 1719 and was the first of modern long stories.

But while the writer of “Robinson Crusoe” was a boy of seventeen there was a great, rough Baptist preacher in Bedford jail, in England, busy writing a greater story. This preacher was John Bunyan and he was writing “The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come.” This story was widely read when Bunyan died in 1688, and is read today in more than eighty languages of the earth.

BUNYAN’S BOYHOOD

What sort of a man was Bunyan? From his beautiful writings we would think he was a scholar, having both leisure and culture. But, instead, he was born of poor parents and was never rich. His father was a mender of cooking vessels and John later followed the same trade, hence is often called “the Bedford tinker.” He went to school very little, but managed to learn to read and write.

He tells us that in his youth he was rough and thoughtless and given to swearing and Sabbath breaking. There was little religious influence in his home. Yet, when nine years old, he became interested in religion and, was converted when he was twenty-four or about fifteen years later.

BUNYAN’S YOUNG MANHOOD

When about seventeen, he served a year or more in the army. During one battle, a comrade who went forward in Bunyan’s place was killed. Bunyan never got over the thought that in this way God had spared his life for some purpose. When about twenty, he married a girl who was poor like himself, but of godly parents. She owned two books, of which Bunyan said, “Her only portion was two volumes which her father had given her, ‘The Plain Man’s Pathway,’ and ‘The Practice of Piety.’ In these I sometimes read, wherein I found some things pleasant to me.”

Bunyan thus reveals his liking for good literature, yet he little dreamed that he would himself make a valuable contribution to the world’s best literature.

BUNYAN BECOMES A “PILGRIM”

After his marriage, Bunyan gave up much of his wickedness, attended church, read his Bible and found his mind filled with thoughts of his lost condition. His wife encouraged him to read. This period of reading and thinking possibly gave him many of the ideas about which he wrote so beautifully later on.

He left off dancing and Sabbath breaking and set out from the “City of Destruction” to the “Heavenly Mansions.” One day, as he was walking in the country thinking and praying, there came to his mind this verse, “He hath made peace through the blood of the cross.” He says, “I then saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace each other.” Soon every thing became clear and he made a profession of religion after which he began preaching to others about the Saviour he had found.

IN PRISON FOR PREACHING

Bunyan joined the Baptist church at Bedford and two years later became its pastor. Great crowds came to hear him. But his preaching was cut short by King Charles II, who came to the throne of England in 1660 and ordered that all preachers who did not belong to the Church of England (Episcopal) should be imprisoned or banished. Bunyan was one of these and was thrown in jail for nothing else than preaching the Gospel as he believed it.

Twelve years he was kept prisoner. Yet he was not idle. He wrote many religious tracts and sermons. The one called “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners” is still read and is a masterpiece of its kind. Thus, to his long imprisonment, Bunyan owes his literary fame. He had quiet and leisure to think. He reminds us of the Apostle Paul, who, while in prison at Ttome, wrote letters which still bless the world.

BUILDING UP His FAME IN BEDFORD JAIL

In 1672 Bunyan was released. But three years later he was put back in jail and at this time he began his great work, “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” This was a new species of literature upon which he worked until 1677, when it was published. Meantime he had been again released from jail. Three editions in the first year proved the popularity of “Pilgrim’s Progress” and, also, raised Bunyan to the place of a favorite writer and preacher of England. For the rest of his sixteen years of life, no one cared to put him in prison again.

BUNYAN’S LAST YEARS

Bunyan’s last fifteen years were spent in fruitful service for his Lord. His one thought was to preach and write about the way of salvation. He was a popular preacher even in London, where he went annually to visit the Baptist churches. It is said that if a day’s notice were given of his coming, the church would be crowded to overflowing to hear him.

He was active until his last illness which was contracted while riding home in a cold, driving rain from Reading, where he had been to reconcile a father to his wayward son. He died August 12, 1688, in his sixty-first year, at the home of a grocer on Snow Hill, at ‘The Sign of the Star.’ His last words were: “My toilsome days are over. I am going to see the Head that was crowned with thorns and the Face that was spit upon, for me. I have lived by hearsay and faith; but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with Him in whose company I delight myself; take me, for I come to Thee.”

Thus, with triumphal joy, he entered the Celestial City.

How little did his enemies, who put him in jail, think that God would overrule their cruelty and make it the means of spreading Bunyan’s name and story over the whole world, and enable him to speak to every land and all nations, through all generations, until the Lord Himself shall come again.

Bunyan is buried in the graveyard at Bunhill Fields, not far from London. In the same graveyard are buried: Daniel DeFoe, who wrote “Robinson Crusoe”; and Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer; and Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley. These four people influenced the world as few others have done.

Most Influential Evangelicals in America

Cover: TIME Lists America's 25 Most Influential Evangelicals

Time Magazine has published a list of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson didn’t make the cut. I would have liked to have seen John Macarthur, John Piper, R. C. Sproull, and Al Mohler on the list. Time pointed to Howard & Roberta Ahmanson, David Barton, Doug Coe, Chuck Colson, Luis Cortès, James Dobson, Stuart Epperson, Michael Gerson, Billy & Franklin Graham, Ted Haggard, Bill Hybels, T.D. Jakes, Diane Knippers, Tim & Beverly LaHaye, Richard Land, Brian McLaren, Joyce Meyer, Richard John Neuhaus, Mark Noll, J.I. Packer, Rick Santorum, Jay Sekulow, Stephen Strang, Rick Warren, and Ralph Winter.

I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I ran each of these names through the “I’m Feeling Lucky” Google search. For those that do not know, the Google feature sends your browser automatically to the first search result. Since the Google ranking algorithm takes multiple factors into account, including page popularity, these 25 most influential names/search terms ought to point to relevant web content. Ideally, the ministry site would be ranked #1, however my hypothesis proved incorrect in several instances. I hacked together a quick list for you to link directly from here and see for yourself: Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, David Barton, Doug Coe, Chuck Colson, Luis Cortès, James Dobson, Stuart Epperson, Michael Gerson, Billy and Franklin Graham, Ted Haggard, Bill Hybels, T.D. Jakes, Diane Knippers, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Richard Land, Brian McLaren, Joyce Meyer, Richard John Neuhaus, Mark Noll, J.I. Packer, Rick Santorum, Jay Sekulow, Stephen Strang, Rick Warren, and Ralph Winter.

Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson
Two-hundred years ago, not one Christian church stood in the “Golden Land of Myanmar,” then called Burma. Not one Christian voice could be heard lifting praise to the God of Heaven and Earth. As John Piper says, “missions exist because worship doesn’t.” God used the life and sufferings of missionary Adoniram Judson to call thousands to Himself. Today the Burma Baptist Convention lists over 3,700 congregations carrying on the work begun by the self sacrifice of Judson and his family.

At 24 years old, the young Judson did not head to the mission field blind to the suffering and difficulties that lie ahead. In a letter to his soon to be wife’s father, requesting her hand in marriage, he wrote:

“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavily home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”

The difficult road described in his request proved prophetic as Adoniram did bury his beloved Ann on foreign soil. Through the course of his ministry the harsh mission field also took his second wife and a total of seven children. In 1832, Judson wrote to missionary candidates looking to join him on the field, “Remember, a large proportion of those who come out on a mission to the East die within five years after leaving their native land. Walk softly, therefore; death is narrowly watching your steps.” Through sicknesses, imprisonment, torture, bouts of depression, and obstacles of every sort, God brought forth a mighty lasting work for His name’s sake.

John Piper highlighted “The Cost of Bringing Christ to Burma Suffering and Success in the Life of Adoniram Judson” two years ago at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors with his sermon, “How Few There Are Who Die So Hard.” I highly recommend reading the sermon. The Wholesome Words web site also has some great resources and links about this great God-honoring missionary pioneer.

Joel Osteen

Joel Osteen
A couple of years ago Forbes reported on the Ten Largest Churches in America. The 25,000 member Lakewood Church in Houston topped the list. Soon to be finished renovations to the acquired Compaq Center (former home of the Houston Rockets) will host the ever-growing mega-church. Pastor Joel Osteen packs them in with his feel-good call to “Discover the Champion Within.” His book, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential,” hit the #1 slot on the New York times Best Seller list.

Well known evangelical leaders like Max Lucado and John Maxwell have endorsed his ministry, so even though I had no first hand knowledge of Osteen’s theology, I put him in the category of Rick Warren and Billy Graham – not as solid and straight shooting as John Piper and John MacArthor, but not as left-field as Joyce Myer and Jan Crouch. Perhaps I nodded approval too quickly.

Recently, The Crusty Curmudgeon criticized the Christianized self-help guru’s theology as being “a mile wide and a millimeter deep.” The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, goes so far as to call the evangelical blogging community to “Out Osteen” for his denial of the faith once delivered to the saints. I decided to check him out for myself.

This morning I watched an internet broadcast of one of Osteen’s sermons, “Have the Courage to be Different.” Although he began his sermon with the congregation holding their Bibles in the air chanting allegiance to the written Word of God, he spent precious little time in its pages. He took his text from about 1/3 of a verse, Romans 12:2a, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” (J. B. Phillips paraphrase) He later turned to the book of Daniel to make his main point, “If you do your part and swim against the stream, God will reward and bless you.”

The remainder of the skyscraper sermon (one story on top of another) served to illustrate his main point. Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself and therefor God rewarded him by moving him up the corporate ladder. (Daniel 1:8) His other illustrations included his physician brother not going along with a scheme to hide doctor error from a patient, a book-keeper refusing to cheat a client out of money, a girl choosing church over her boyfriend, and his dad asking some rowdy baseball fans to refrain from foul language. In every instance God rewarded the person for taking the high road. His brother eventually moved up to head surgeon and part owner of the hospital, the book-keeper influenced her boss to stop cheating other people, the girlfriend found a new love and the cussing fans changed their tune to shouts of “hallelujah” when their team scored the next run.

Between each story Osteen reinforced his point with metaphorical challenges to stand out in the crowd, swim upstream, and soar like eagles; as well as his favorite homespun aphorism of the day, “cream always rises to the top.” No Christ, no cross, no mention of man’s moral bankruptcy, just the feel-good positive message of assurance that God always rewards human effort and virtue. To close the service he turned to the camera with a quick 20 word sinners prayer with the assurance “if you just prayed that prayer you are now born again.”

I commend Osteen for calling his parishioners to a life void of dirty jokes, lying, cheating, premarital cohabitation, and foul language, but if we take the time to exegete the sermon’s key passage (Romans 12:2) we see that Osteen’s pep-rally falls woefully short of the Biblical doctrine the Apostle Paul gives his readers. Paul does indeed urge us not to be conformed to this world, or as J. B. Philips puts it “don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” As Osteen rips the phrase from its context, he twists it beyond recognition.

While Christians should have “Courage To Be Different,” Osteen runs counter to Paul when he stresses the motivation for a life of sanctification to be man-centered self promotion, instead of self sacrificing Godward worship. The previous verse gives clear indication of what prompts a believer to resist worldly conformity. Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you brethren by the mercies of God.” (Romans 12:1) With these words the apostle links the coming challenge with the mercies of God previously delineated in chapters 1-11. These abounding undeserved mercies of God include, justification Romans 2:13, propitiation of sin Romans 3:25, forgiveness of our evil deeds Romans 4:7-8, reconciliation with God through the death of His Son Romans 5:10, freedom from the bondage of sin Romans 6:18, the right to be called heirs and the children of God Romans 8:14–17, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the gift of faith, and much much more. These rich mercies of God, not personal promotion, should compel us to offer our bodies a living sacrifice in fitting worship to our all deserving glorious God. Joel Osteen turns Paul’s admonition inside out and upside down when he changes the substance of our worship to God for undeserved mercies into a man-centered program to gain deserving reward.

If this one random sermon provided an indicative look into Joel Osteen’s typical sermon fair, I do not recommend his ministry and wonder why some evangelical leaders have done so. While he may not seem as extreme as the lunatic fringe of the health wealth and prosperity, name it and claim it, blab it and grab it crowd, the end effect may be more dangerous because of his wider appeal.

OUR Father – Youth Bible Study

I wrote the following simple Bible study for a small group of teenagers to do themselves.

Use your Bibles:

1. Read Matthew 6:9-13
A. Underline all the pronouns in the Model Prayer.
B. What do you notice about the pronouns?
C. Who does each pronoun refer to?

2. Read Acts 1:14
A. Who prayed?
B. How many prayed?
C. How long did they pray?

3. Read Acts 6:6-7
A. What 3 things (verse 7) happened after the church prayed?

4. Read Acts 12:5,12
A. Where was Peter?
B. What did the church do?
C. Where were the people doing this?
D. Have you ever prayed with someone else? Where and when? Tell us about it

5. Read Matthew 6:5
A. Where do the hypocrites pray?
B. Why do they pray there? Do they really want their prayers answered or
something else?
C. Do they get what they want?

6. Read Matthew 6:6
A. Where does Jesus say to pray in contrast to the hypocrites?
B. Is this place literal or figurative?
C. List some good places you could pray alone. Why is that a good place?

7. Read Matthew 6:7 and Luke 6:12
A. What’s wrong with the way the heathen pray? ( Matthew 6:7)
B. How long did Jesus pray? (Luke 6:12)
3. What do you think the difference is between Jesus in
Luke 6:12 and the heathen in Matthew 6:7?

8. Read Matthew 6:8
A. Does God already know what you need?

9. Read Matthew 6:9
A. Who is the “our” referring to?
B. Does this mean we should pray with other people?
C. Does this mean we should never pray alone? Why?

Brain Storm and Discuss:

1. What are some advantages to praying with a group?

2. What are some advantages of praying alone?

3. What are some dangers of praying with a group?

4. What are some dangers of praying alone?

The Emergent Pilgrim

The Bible speaks of the Christian life as a “walk.” (Romans 6:4, Romans 8:1, 2 Corinthians 5:7, Galatians 6:16, Ephesians 5:2, Colossians 1:10, Colossians 2:6, 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, 1 John 1:7, 1 John 2:6, 2 John 4, 3 John 4, Revelation 3:4) I like John Bunyan’s pilgrim metaphor. I walk a journey with a destination. Wonder and discovery explode at every turn – if I keep walking.

I see two deep ditches on either side of the road. To my right stands a plastic tree dripping with wax-fruit. A posted sign reads, “I have all the answers – Rest Here.” The gully leads to a lifeless stagnant Christian life. To my left hangs a circus style banner, “No Truth Exist.” The steep drop-off falls into a cloudy abyss of frustration, futility, and hopelessness. God’s overcoming grace compels me to keep walking the path. I hear a still small voice, “Ecclesia Reformata et semper reformanda.” It urges me forward. I have a community of faith around me to help me along – and a flaming fire before us, to light our way. We have not arrived yet, but with weak legs we walk on.

Scattered along the road, I encounter fantastic visions that cause my mind to question and wonderfully clear markers of certainty that can only be seen with blurry eyes of faith. Underfoot, the journey begins with a firm ground assurance that the pathway a Christian travels is Christ himself. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” Overhead, spans a wide expansive sky of God’s sovereignty. His mysterious providence permeates the air I breathe. With full lungs, I keep walking…