Giving Thanks to God for the Life and Legacy of Charles Spurgeon (with some help from Shai Linne)

Today marks the 122’nd anniversary of the homegoing of the “Prince of Preachers”, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Truly, this man earned his title! He was devoted to God and committed to the faithful proclamation of God’s Word in a way that should both humble and inspire even the most respected pastors in our own day. The incredibly rich heritage of sermons, books, and articles which he left behind continues to bless the lives of all who read them.

Though it may seem surprising to some readers of this blog, one the most exciting and profound (not to mention concise) introductions to the life of Spurgeon comes to us in the form of a rap music video. Christian rapper Shai Linne, who has been influenced in his own spiritual growth by the expository preaching of men like Mark Dever, John MacArthur, and John Piper, has delivered an inspiring overview of Spurgeon’s life in this song that lasts less than five minutes!

So, will you please take a few minutes to listen to the story of Spurgeon’s life as told by Shai Linne? If you’re able to do this, then I hope you will be inspired by the example of what one person’s life can potentially accomplish for God (whether called to serve in full-time ministry or not) when that person submits their life fully to God and pursues his calling on their life with all zeal, passion, and joy! Thanks be to God for his bold witnesses like Spurgeon – and may he yet raise up many more “Spurgeons” who are passionate to spread the gospel of Christ in our own day, as well!

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Crossing the Tracks – Book Review by Dr. David Murray

For those who haven’t seen this, here is a great review of the book that I co-authored with Dolphus Weary and William Hendricks (son of the late Dr. Howard Hendricks, from Dallas Theological Seminary), titled “Crossing the Tracks”.  This review was written by Dr. David Murray, from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and was originally posted on the “Gospel Coalition” website (http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/crossing_the_tracks.) .

crossing the tracks book cover 2

Crossing the Tracks

Dolphus Weary with Josh Dear and William Hendricks |

Review by: David P. Murray

Dolphus Weary with Josh Dear and William Hendricks. Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2012. 192 pp. $11.99.

What an inspiring story! As one blurb put it, “[Dolphus Weary’s] journey out of physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty will challenge you to cross the racial divides in your own community and discover what it really means to serve one another.” That’s for sure.

Dolphus’s first book, I Ain’t Comin’ Back, told the story of how God enabled him to escape the poverty and discrimination of 1940-50s Mississippi to become one of the first black students in Los Angeles Bible College and then a missionary in Asia.

Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community is the rest of the story, the account of how God not only overcame Dolphus’s opposition to return to Mississippi but also equipped him to serve its people in gospel ministry.

Earlier in my life, I had fled Mississippi with the vow, “I ain’t never comin’ back.” But then God called me back, and I obeyed. Now to my utter amazement, I was declaring, “I can’t ever leave!” I’d never felt such freedom. (56)

Using the story of his own fascinating life, Dolphus guides us to four action items: (1) Gospel-centered racial reconciliation; (2) Repenting of sins of omission as well as commission; (3) Just affirmative action policies; and (4) Practical bridge-building for Christians and churches.

Gospel-Centered Racial Reconciliation

Racial reconciliation is ultimately a spiritual issue. “Yes, racism manifests itself in ways that are very ugly and obvious,” Dolphus admits. “But if we only work on the social aspects of racism and never introduce the gospel, then we’ll never see complete transformation” (32).

Although Dolphus argues persuasively for political and social action, he always keeps the gospel central. Indeed, God taught him that “proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and working for racial reconciliation were two sides of the same coin” (53).

Sin of Silence

Racism can be a sin of omission as well as commission. Dolphus observes:

You don’t have to be a member of a racist group to practice racism. You don’t even have to feel prejudice against an entire race to practice racism. All you have to do is watch someone from another race being treated unjustly and remain silent. (70)

It’s not enough to not be racist, in other words. There has to be a resolve to oppose racism and promote racial reconciliation. Without that positive commitment, we can be guilty of passive racism.

Just Affirmative Action

I’ve never been a fan of affirmative action as commonly understood and practiced. However, the way Dolphus introduces it, defines it, and works it out in practice is both compelling and convincing. “In its purest form,” he explains, “affirmative action is a policy that considers race after all the other qualifications have been met” (125).

Dolphus insists it isn’t enough to say “Great idea!” Clear policies are essential to make sure the ideal becomes reality. “Policy is a discipline that ensures that we follow through on our good intentions,” he writes. “It’s an objective reminder of what we said we want to do and be” (128). For colleges and seminaries, that means not just having racially and ethnically diverse students, but faculty, management, and staff as well.

Affirmative action is controversial, and, as I mentioned, I initially read this section with deep skepticism. But Dolphus’s version is highly persuasive. Read it before you jump to conclusions. Even if you’re not persuaded, I’m sure you will be convinced of the need for some policies and actions to level the playing field in many spheres of everyday life.

Bridge-Building on the Ground

Apart from its gospel-centered focus, what I liked most about Crossing the Tracks was how it demonstrated that racial reconciliation doesn’t require grand public gestures but can begin right where we are.

“How many Christians do you know who don’t look like you?” Dolphus pointedly asks. He challenges churches to reach out to other congregations of different racial composition, and provides two pages of ideas for how racially different and divided churches can partner together in kingdom work. According to Dolphus, when Christians who don’t look like each other come together in the ways he proposes, three powerful things happen (165-166):

1. They actually address a real need in their community.

2. They show the world what racial reconciliation looks like by coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ and living out the unity Christ desires.

3. Because of that unity they offer a compelling witness to the world that Jesus is Lord of a united people, answering Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

Unique Man with a Unique Calling

I assure you Crossing the Tracks is not an anti-white polemic or a politically correct tract. Dolphus comes across as a kind, gentle, loving Christian man whom God has raised up to call his church to greater Christlikeness in its pursuit of racial reconciliation.

Writing a review of such a good book is easy. Now for the hard part—crossing the tracks.

David P. Murray is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Murray blogs regularly at Head, Heart, Hand: Leadership for Servants.

Copyright © 2014 by the author listed above. Used by permission.

Dr. John M. Perkins – Honoring a True Hero of the Faith

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Dr. Perkins and I during his visit to Muskegon, Michigan in 2011, just before he preached at a special “racial reconciliation” service at our church.

On the occasion of “Martin Luther King Jr. Day”, I want to offer a few comments about a personal friend of mine, Dr. John M. Perkins, whose own life struggles for racial equality and social justice bear much in common with those of Dr. King, and who was, himself, an acquaintance of Dr. King’s.  While Dr. King was working so aggressively in Alabama, Georgia, and elsewhere to try to change hearts and minds which were filled with racial hatred, John Perkins was fighting some of the very same battles in Mississippi, and was risking just as much to do so.  Far too often, though, many of the books and movies in our own day offer inspiring accounts of the culture-changing work of Dr. King, but fail to mention the equally significant role that Dr. Perkins played in this pivotal period of our nation’s history.  I imagine that one reason many people outside of Christian circles fail to highlight his profound contributions to our culture is simply because all of his work was intended – first and foremost – to be a bold proclamation of and a visible witness to the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ.

Born on a cotton plantation in New Hebron, Mississippi, John’s mother died before he was one, and his father abandoned the family, leaving him to be raised primarily by his grandmother, with the help of his aunts, uncles, and cousins.  At the age of 17, John watched his brother get shot by a white police officer without just cause, and John held his brother in his arms as he died.  Later in life, Perkins and his family experienced racial persecution of virtually every kind, including personal attacks, death threats, and a horrific ordeal with police in Brandon, Mississippi, in which John was brought into a jail cell, tortured for hours, and forced to mop up his own blood off the floor.  Yet, through all of these painful life experiences, John and his family continued to pray for the people who persecuted them, and to share the message of God’s love with all who would listen.

John and his wife, Vera Mae, helped register the first black voters in Mississippi.  They also led the struggle against the segregated schools in Mendenhall, Mississippi when, in 1967, two of their children were enrolled as the first black students in Mendenhall’s previously all-white public school.  In addition to working for racial equality throughout society, John and Vera Mae also taught Bible classes to children and adults, established at least two new churches (as well as a Christian family center in California), and helped meet a multitude of needs among the poor and neglected communities throughout the state, providing tremendous resources in the areas of child care, education, health care, and much more.  In 1989, he founded the Christian Community Development Association, a growing fellowship of evangelical Christians who care deeply about ministering to the needs of people who live in deprived urban settings, which is continuing to spread the gospel and serve needy communities throughout our nation.

As John’s faithful ministry continued to bear fruit throughout Mississippi, he was increasingly sought out for radio interviews, and as a speaker for larger ministry events, such as the popular “Promise Keepers” and “Urbana” conferences.  Increasingly, he’s been blessed to know and minister alongside some of the most respected Christian leaders in the world, including Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, Bill Bright, James Dobson, and many others.  He was invited to participate in the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism (which was organized by Billy Graham), and served for a year on President Reagan’s “Task Force on Hunger”.  He has also served on the boards of numerous Christian ministries, including Belhaven University, Prison Fellowship, World Vision, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

In spite of the fact that Dr. Perkins had to drop out of school in the third grade, he has reflected deeply on God’s Word for many years, and has become respected around the world for his gospel-driven wisdom, and for his profound insights regarding how Christians should live out the gospel in the world today.  He has authored fourteen books himself, and is the subject of at least five book-length biographies.  He’s also been awarded eleven honorary doctorates by some of the leading colleges and universities in our country, including the award of an honorary Doctor of Law degree by Wheaton College in 1980.  I have no doubt that people will be benefiting from the life and ministry of Dr. John Perkins for many generations to come, and will (I hope) be learning from his tremendous example of faithful, Christian living – even in the face of persecution and suffering – for just as long.

So, today I ask you to join me in giving thanks to God for this faithful Christian servant, and in asking the Lord to raise up many more like him, who will submit their lives fully to God and be firmly committed to the truth of his unchanging Word, no matter what challenges and struggles they may have to endure.  In my own life, I have been very richly blessed by the teaching and example of Dr. Perkins – and even more so by our friendship, and by the wisdom that he’s imparted to me on many occasions as we’ve had opportunities for fellowship with one another.  My hope, though, is that many more believers will continue to learn about Dr. Perkins, to read his books, and to be profoundly influenced by his devotion to God, his love for others, and his passionate call for all Christ-followers to live out the gospel in ways that leave no doubt as to the difference that God has made in each of our lives.

Should you want to learn more about Dr. Perkins (and I hope you will!), you can find a bit more information about him on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_M._Perkins), through these ministry websites (http://spencerperkinscenter.org/v1/ OR  http://www.ccda.org/), and through the website for the “John Perkins Center” at Seattle Pacific University (http://www.spu.edu/depts/perkins/john-perkins/index.asp).  If you like Christian rock music (or perhaps even if you don’t), you might also enjoy seeing the music video for the song “The Sound (John M. Perkins Blues)”, which was written in his honor by the Grammy-winning band Switchfoot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNQgABsUfK8).

Better than any of this, though, would be to go “right to the source” and read one of the inspiring and potentially life-changing books by Dr. Perkins, beginning with this one – “Let Justice Roll Down” – http://www.amazon.com/Justice-Roll-Down-John-Perkins/dp/0830763740/ref=dp_ob_title_bk.  Finally, let me also share this link to the talk that Dr. Perkins just gave at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, on the same day that I prepared this post – http://www.calvin.edu/january/2014/Perkins.htm.  As you take the time to read more about Dr. Perkins, or to listen to him speak about the things that God has accomplished in and through him, you will surely be edified and inspired in your own Christian walk, just I certainly have been!

Renewing the Vision

IMG_0710If you previously “followed” my posts on this page (and I’m thankful for all 5 or 6 of you who did…), then you realize that it’s been a LONG time since I posted anything here – a couple of years, in fact!  I feel pretty ashamed of how long it’s been since I’ve posted here, but as I hinted in my last post or two, there were several different areas of my life that kept nudging me in other directions and preventing me from making the time to do this.  Specifically, here are some of the thoughts that have kept me away from this page for so long…..

1) Kids – Most obviously, I became a DAD!  Ever since we were first blessed with Luther on May 31, 2011 – and even more so since Nora was born in January 2013 – loving, teaching, and ministering to the needs of our children has been among our top responsibilities.  As any parent can tell you, this takes TIME, and makes it very hard to pull away and invest time doing other things which aren’t urgent or required.

2) Work – It goes without saying that jobs that help us buy food, pay bills, and put gas in the cars are more urgent than volunteer “jobs” that don’t.  As a minister, the demands of church ministry kept pulling me away from other writing-related projects, like this, which I had previously aimed to do on a more regular basis.  In the past year, the transition from church work to editing work (along with my various teaching and preaching opportunities) has put similar demands on my schedule, and has also forced me to sit in front of a computer screen for quite enough hours as it is!

3) More experienced bloggers – There are already SO many great bloggers on the internet, such as Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, etc., and they have professional-quality blog sites with years’ worth of excellent posts and thousands of online followers.  How can I possibly compete with that?  What new can I offer that isn’t already readily available to readers around the world?

I know several of these guys personally, and while they lead extremely busy lives as pastors, husbands, fathers, etc., looking at their blogs gives the impression that they never step away from their computers!  They write about events WHILE they are happening, they write thought-provoking reviews for books that haven’t been released yet, and they stay just about as current, relevant, and informative as can possibly be.  In some respects, just knowing that these guys are out there, posting new and exciting posts nearly every day, can be very discouraging to young bloggers like me, who have no money and very little time to invest in an endeavor like this one.

4) Poor self-discipline – Like everybody else that I know, I struggle to properly manage my time each day (In fact, one of my earlier blog entries was dealing with this topic.).  My biggest struggle in regard to the blog, though, has been that I’m used to writing sermons, articles, and even book manuscripts – not “blog entries”.  So, I haven’t yet mastered the helpful art of being brief with my comments!

Being a minister and a reader / writer, I like to communicate!  Therefore, whenever I would set out to write a blog entry, I would always invest more time trying to articulate my thoughts fully and articulately than I probably should have.  So, rather than a blog post, I would offer an article, which proved too time-consuming for me as a writer, and probably too substantial for some of my readers (who have limited time for reading articles online), as well.  Even now, I’m struggling to know how to be concise with this post, and not spend all morning typing it!

So, anyway, these are the things have lingered in my heart and mind over the last two to three years, consistently discouraging me from writing anything new on here.  Obviously, I have been seriously tempted to simply delete this page and forget about my blog idea altogether – not because I don’t love to write, but simply because I have lots of other great opportunities to write, and because the blog seems more like a distraction from the other, more important, areas of my life.

Truth be told, I may still give up on this idea permanently at some point in the not-too-distant future.  However, I’ve determined that I’m not quite ready to do that just yet.  I do see some good benefits to blogging more faithfully, such as requiring myself to put my writing skills into practice more often, and inviting other respected bloggers and writers to both critique and (I hope) encourage me in my writing.  Furthermore, in spite of the overwhelming variety of great Christian blogs already available to readers, I still believe that I can build this page up into something that will be of interest and benefit to potential readers, and which will hopefully edify them in their walk with the Lord.

So, in an effort to give this page another go, and to see if I can stay a bit more disciplined and devoted to this website than I previously did, I have updated the layout of the page, hopefully improving the appearance a bit, and will soon begin adding some (other) new posts.  My “renewed vision” for this, though, is to invest less time preparing “theological articles” (as I previously offered), and to focus more regularly on reviews and recommendations of new books, sharing the best posts that I find on other pages, etc.  In other words, I’m hoping to do a better job of making this page actually live up to its name – “Echoes of the Elect” – by spending more time considering what all of us can learn from the writings of great biblical teachers of both the past and the present.

To get this endeavor started back in the right way, I’ll begin by sharing this link to a brand new, FREE “eBook” by John Piper (also available as a PDF file, for those – like me – who still prefer the physically printed page over an “e-anything”…).  It surveys the rich teaching of Jonathan Edwards, and especially the significant role that the writings of Edwards have had in the life and ministry of Pastor Piper.  This should be a great blessing to all of us – and it’s absolutely FREE!

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/jonathan-edwards-via-john-piper-new-ebook

Of course, I hope that this “renewed” blog page will find its proper audience, and will prove to be encouraging to all who read it in the days to come.  Thanks to all who read this, and thanks for your prayers and encouragement as I continue to strive to serve the Lord to the best of my abilities.  I hope that you, too, will find similar ways to honor God and serve others with your gifts, talents, and the various passions of your heart!