Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Happy Thanksgiving! Here is Abraham Lincoln’s short speech to institute Thanksgiving as a holiday in the United States.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness (sic) of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

– Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1865

Living and Praying with Your Eyes Open

“Surely I am too stupid.” That’s not the typical way you start a lesson on how to be wise. But that is exactly what our friend Agur does in Proverbs 30. He admits he’s not wise or educated or has a vast knowledge of God. And yet, he gets one chapter—out of only 31—in the most renown book of wisdom ever compiled. Why?

He lived and prayed with his eyes open.

Admitting you aren’t wise, maybe even that you are stupid, is perhaps the first step on the road to wisdom. The second step is to open up your eyes and look around while you walk. That’s what Agur did. What did he see?

His eyes were opened to the ease with which eagles fly, serpents sit, ships sail, and lovers love. His eyes were opened to the ease with which an adulteress lures and cheats and ruins. He saw ants and badgers and locusts and lizards doing their business to perfection. The proud walk of lions, goats, roosters mesmerized him.

Indeed, all of Proverbs uses metaphors from the theater of creation to help motivate us to wise living. But here, we see a man who doesn’t have answers or give us short, memorable sayings. Oh he teaches us, be sure of that. But his teaching comes not from self-proclaimed expertise but by simply marveling at what his eyes see.

And, at least for one chapter, that’s enough.

I struggle with seeing. I sense more often than not I don’t stop to look at the world God made. I’m too busy. I’m too busy killing ants in my backyard rather pulling my kids aside and wondering at their diligence and organization. I’m too busy finishing this project or that around the house rather than marveling at the way people fall in—and stay in—love.

I’m learning, however. I’m trying. My eyes were first opened to living with my eyes open when I read chapter seven in Eugene Peterson’s book Contemplative Pastor. It’s titled “Praying with Eyes Open,” and it challenged me to reconsider the intersection of the spiritual and physical. The fact that we are physical people in a physical world should force us to be more material, not less, when we pray and live. Christians should not be less human, but more. Prayer should force us to speak to God and, consequently, live with and before God with open eyes.

It’s necessary and good to open our eyes to the material world in life, in prayer, because the Word became flesh. The second Person of the Trinity became material. We could see him; touch him; hear him (see 1 John 1). Let that sink in. The One through whom the world was created had a body, like you and me. Don’t be fooled: being a Christian is not an escape from the material world. It’s thoroughly set in among ants and lizards, lions and roosters, virgins and eagles, rocks and cliffs, bread and wine, nails and thorns. Jesus does not take us deeper into the mystical unknown. His body dies and his body rises from the dead. Are you eyes open to that?

There are billions of amazing things happening around us all the time. We only have to open our eyes. When our eyes are opened, we’ll gain insight into God’s character, what he’s up to in the world, and, most importantly, we will know God’s Son whom we cannot now see, but whom we will see one day. That’s wisdom. That’s what Agur was after. That’s what I’m after. What about you?

My Plea for Pastors and Musicians to Decrease

On his journey to the cross, Jesus said something to the disciples that, if they listened, would change everything about their lives. He said something that, if they took it to heart, would destroy their self-centered and self-aggrandizing identities and reputations, only to give them something infinitely greater.

Here’s what Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25).

Earlier in the gospel story, John the Baptizer said the same thing only with different vocabulary: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

This is part and parcel of what it means to live the Christian life. You lose your life. You carry your cross. You decrease. You make Jesus’ name and renown and life and work and reputation increase. And when you do this, you gain. In other words, the Christian life is a recapitulation of the cross and resurrection. We die to our sinful selves in order to experience resurrection life: being satisfied with Jesus and making him look great to the world. We say “no” to building our own little, pathetic kingdoms because God has opened our eyes to see there is one King who is worthy of all honor, glory, and praise.

This is the call for everyone who submits to and follows Jesus. How much more for those who lead God’s people in the church? One of the greatest temptations for pastors/preachers (of which I am one) and music directors is to make ourselves the point during corporate gatherings and, more generally, in our leadership and multiplication strategies. This runs rampant in North America. I see it all the time and it breaks my heart.

How do you know when you stop decreasing? Let me ask several sharp, probing questions that will help you diagnose your heart.

Pastors, are you equipping others to preach and give these people actual public opportunities to do? Are you the only weekly preacher during Sunday gatherings? On your church’s website, when people visit the “sermon” page, is your likeness plastered all over webpage? Does your church multiplication strategy lead to a lot of people under one roof listening to you or watching you on a screen? Does your whole week revolve around planning for Sunday (the day they will see you do your preaching thing) in order that people have a great worship experience?

Music directors, are your songs more suited toward a concert solo than congregational singing? Is the music so loud that a person in the congregation can only hear themselves singing rather than their voice as one in a host of voices? Do you believe and communicate (through prayer or otherwise) that music is a mediator between the people and God, that it ushers them into the presence of God? Do you ever step away from the microphone and delight in the sound of the saints raising their voices to the living God?

Be very careful how you answer these questions. They will reveal what your heart truly loves. They will reveal whether you want yourself or Christ to increase.

Yet at the same time, beware of the deceiving nature of sin. You may answer these questions the right way. You may say, “I’m equipping others. It’s all about Jesus. It’s not about me or my preaching!” You may say, “Of course it’s about congregational worship! Jesus, not the music, is the object of our affection.”

But sin is powerful in its ability to deceive. That’s what sin is and does. It makes us wise in our own eyes. Even if our eyes have been opened by Jesus, sin blinds us. It’s like a hidden lion, crouching behind a rock waiting to pounce on us. That’s why sin is dangerous. Blatant, obvious, visible sin is not the scariest thing. Sin that’s hidden and crouching behind a rocky part of the heart is.

Do you know what will ruin you and me as leaders in God’s church? It’s not sexual sin or embezzlement or fraud or theft or laziness or lack of commitment to sound doctrine. Oh sure, these are dangerous. These are real. But these are merely the blatant, obvious, marquee sins that put you on the front page of paper. It starts somewhere else. Somewhere deeper. Somewhere that’s hard to recognize. Somewhere more dangerous.

It starts with the exaltation of self.

You increase. And when you increase, Christ can do nothing but decrease. You stop carrying your cross and losing your life and call people to carry their crosses and follow you. You stop calling people to Jesus and start calling them to yourself. Jesus stops being your greatest treasure and supreme end, and he becomes a means toward something greater, namely, your worth, your brand, your reputation, your success. You will twist the psalmist’s words and, perhaps even unbeknownst to you, you sing, “Not to you, O LORD, not to you, but to my name give glory!” (see Ps. 115:1).

I wish I were immune to this. I wish that the craving for “celebrity” was a non-issue for me. I’m a work in progress. But I am not where I once was. Oh God has been gracious to me! I have grow incredibly disillusioned Christian celebrity. I don’t want it. On a mega scale or even in the church I serve with just a few hundred people, celebrity sickens me. And because God has been gracious to me this way, pastors and musicians, I want you to know this grace, too.

That’s why I’m pleading with you. I plead with you to see the cross, where your Redeemer was stripped and hung naked that you might come to God. He decreased for your sake. He sacrificed himself and put your before his needs! But this is not so that you would increase yourself, but, in loving response, exalt him! Do you see how the gospel works? Do you see that he become poor so that you could become rich—not in order to flaunt your received riches but so that you too might become poor, knowing him in his sufferings and becoming like him in his death, only to share in his resurrection? Do you see that unless there’s death, there’s no resurrection? Do you see that when you die, Christ will be exalted and there will be ministry fruit beyond your wildest dreams because it will be lasting fruit, centered on him, not you? Do you see that if there’s no death in you, if there’s no decreasing, then you are not fulfilling your role as a leader in God’s church?

I plead with you: decrease! Become small by equipping others and passing on to others what you have and help them do what you do better than you do it! Let God’s voice, not yours, be the prevailing sound in the church you serve! Come to the end of yourself, seeing your heart for the pathetic, deceptive black-ness that it is and that it is only due to the gracious redemption of God that you are a new creation and have the privilege to lead God’s people.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Pastors, musicians, do hear the words of Jesus? Which will you choose?

Review: ESV Journaling Bible

I love the English Standard Version Bible. In my personal reading and study and in my preaching and other ministry, this is the primary version I use. I’m thankful to God for such a literal yet readable translation. So I was happy to receive a free copy of the ESV Journaling Bible published by Crossway to review.

I’m not reviewing the text of Scripture, here, but let me offer some brief thoughts on why the ESV is a worthy translation. It’s not a perfect translation. You should consult other trusted translations (e.g. NIV, NASB, HCSB). We are spoiled with how many good translations we have in English. But to me, the ESV is head and shoulders above the rest. Here are a few thoughts, which I can thank Kevin DeYoung for. The ESV uses an “essentially literal” philosophy, which makes it more transparent of an translation than other options. Embedded into this philosophy is, what I call, the ambiguity principle (this is a good thing!). In other words, the reader must wrestle with the text because the ESV translators translate not interpret. This means that the ESV does less “over-translation” (trying to communicate more than what was intended) and less “under-translation” (watering down words with deep meanings) than other versions.

The ESV also seeks to keep translation of a word in context the same throughout a passage a book. First John 2:10, 24, for example translates the same Greek word (menō) as “abide,” whereas the NIV translates it as “lives” and “remain(s).”

Finally, the ESV retains more of the literary qualities of the Bible. The Bible is a divine book, but also a human one. Figures of speech are less likely to be removed of their earthiness or tangibility in the ESV. Again, the ambiguity principle! Compare Ps. 35:10, 73:10; 78:33; and Pr. 27:6 in the ESV and NIV for examples.

Now let me offer some bullet-point thoughts on the layout and aesthetics of the Journaling Bible.

  • It comes in a beautifully designed cardboard case for safe keeping.
  • The cover is hardboard with a cloth overlay. There are nine different design options.
  • Other than the ESV text, this edition includes articles on why to read the Bible, what the Bible says about certain topics, God’s plan of salvation, introductions to each of the 66 biblical books, and a one-year Bible reading plan.
  • There are no cross references in the ESV text, but there are footnotes which point out textual variants or alternative meanings of various Hebrew/Greek words.
  • The point size of the Scripture text is a fairly small. This would be my only negative critique. I would suppose this is inevitable because, of course, room needs to be made for the 2-inch ruled margins for journaling. If your eyes are growing ever less dependable, this might not be the Bible edition for you.

Simply put: it’s another wonderful, beautiful, helpful Bible edition from Crossway.

The good news is you can get in on this! I’m giving away a FREE copy of the ESV Journaling Bible (in the blue flora design). Here’s how you can win. You get one “entry” for each thing you do:

  1. “Like” this post below.
  2. Link back to this post on your blog.
  3. Share this post on Facebook.
  4. Share this post on Twitter.
  5. Subscribe to my blog (you can do that here or click “Follow” at the bottom of this page). If you already do, let me know if your comment below.
  6. Follow me on Twitter. If you already do, let me know in your comment below.
  7. Comment on this post and 1) tell me why you could use a free journaling Bible, and 2) which of the above entries you did.

You have until Friday, November 13 at 5pm to enter. A winner will be announced on Monday, November 16. Good luck!

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Scattered Thoughts on Seminary and Staying Put

11052 (3)Back in August, Christianity Today ran an article about students choosing and attending seminaries based on geography, not theological affinity. Students want to “stay put” because of the cost of moving and living in a larger city. The article alludes to the fact that the nature of seminary is changing. If seminaries want to survive, they have to adapt.

This brings to mind some scattered thoughts on seminary and “staying put” in your hometown. This post is not for people who want a debate about the virtues or vices of seminary. It’s for young (or old!) men and women who want to attend seminary and want to hear from a guy who went through seminary. Here are some (random) thoughts from my seminary story that you may find helpful as you discern God’s call on your life.

I have a seminary degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and I “attended” online. I chose Liberty not because of any theological affinity but primarily out of convenience: I could stay in my hometown!

Over two years, I read books and wrote papers and interacted with students and professors through online discussion boards. Then I got a degree (an MAR, which is somewhere between an MA and an MDiv). This online education was successful for me. Why? I had a very solid theological foundation before my program and I was serving as a pastoral intern in our local church. We could not afford to move to a big city. We could not afford for me not to work and pay for seminary. Attending online was an affordable option, and I had a job (at our church) that provided full-time pay and time to study. A complete win-win for Carly and me.

For you, can you somehow stay at your local church and complete your studies? You will lose face-to-face interaction with other students and professors. But you will gain valuable field experience in your own context and your life (especially if married) will not experience such a drastic interruption. Is a question worth digging into.

I said that I had a good theological foundation before seminary. Yet seminary was still very helpful. I was exposed to ideas that I had not thought about before. But did I need to pay money to do this? Honestly, no, I did not. I know your objections: paying for an education provides accountability (if you pay, you’ll do the work) and credibility (getting a degree shows you can accomplish something). But remember that the first disciples did not have degrees and none of the apostles, aside from Paul, were theological scholars. Why should we require it (or even assume it).

Sadly, I went to seminary to “get the paper.” It’s frustrating to me that in our culture if you’d like to be considered as a vocational pastor/elder, you need to have formalized academic training. Because of this, many churches are filled with pastors who have letters after their name, but do not have 1 Timothy 3- and Titus 1-type character.

Now, hear me out: I am not saying seminary is not valuable! I’m only saying that the primary pursuit of pastoral ministry (thus this is different than people attending for counseling, teaching, etc.) is not primarily an academic pursuit. If that is true, then why do pastors spend so much time in a classroom being being launched a people-centered ministry? You do not need to have a formal degree. Again, none of Jesus’ disciples did. Jesus didn’t.

You do need to be educated somehow. You must be trained to preach, teach, and lead. Everything you learn in a seminary classroom—and much more—you can (and should) learn in a local church context in life-on-life environments. Most seminaries will teach you theology and exegetical skills and historical context and introduce you to important doctrinal debates in church history. You need that. But, with few exceptions, seminaries will not train you how to actually be a pastor. Enter the local church. Enter your pastor and other wise men and women in your congregation. Enter a small group or Sunday School class where you are face-to-face with people. Ah, people! People are, after all, what ministry is all about. Would you be a pastor? Be around people!

When I consider my journey, I could have read everything I read in seminary, written papers, discussed them with my pastors and other mentors for free. It would have taken longer, yes. It would not have yielded a piece of paper and letters after my name. But it could have been greatly customized to my personal call and needs in the moment. I would not have been in an institutional box. It would have been, well, a bit more like Jesus and his disciples. Isn’t that what we are shooting for? This is not casual, haphazard, maybe-we’ll-get-to-it-maybe-we-won’t training. It’s non-formal, student-centered education, and it’s rooted in the natural rhythms of the Christian life: family, worship, vocation, and church community. If you are considering pastoral ministry, my encouragement to you is to talk to your pastor and latch onto him. Find out what he does. Find out what his life is like. Eat meals with him. Get to know his wife. Be his shadow. And listen. Then listen again. Then keep listening.

Let me share one more thought. If I could have a seminary mulligan, one thing I would have done differently is not gotten a seminary degree. WHAT?! That’s right. I would have gotten an MBA or an MA in teaching or English or exercise science or something that would have opened doors for me in non-church environments. The reason for this is two-fold. First, because I believe the future of pastoral ministry in the States is not staff pastors who receive their entire salary from a church. Second, it would have provided greater opportunity and capacity to be a missionary in the “real” world and play a greater role in organic church planting.

So there you have it. My scattered thoughts on my seminary experience. Do not take any of this as the ultimate truth on seminary. It’s food for thought. I trust some of it will be helpful for you.

For those of you who have been to seminary, did you attend on campus or online? Or have you been trained non-formally (not in a classroom/online environment)? How was your experience? What would you change?