John Newton on Christian growth

The Christian oak shall grow and flourish forever.

The work of grace is not like Jonah’s gourd, which sprang up and flourished in a night, and as quickly withered, but rather like the oak, which, from a little acorn and a tender plant, advances with an almost imperceptible growth from year to year, till it becomes a broad, spreading, and deep-rooted tree, and then it stands for ages. The Christian oak shall grow and flourish forever. When I see any soon after they appear to be awakened, making a speedy profession of great joy before they have due acquaintance with their own hearts, I am in pain for them. I am not sorry to hear them afterwards complain that their joys are gone, and they are almost at their wits’ end; for without some such check, to make them feel their weakness and dependence, I seldom find them turn out well; either their fervour insensibly abates, till they become quite cold and sink into the world again (of which I have seen many instances), or, if they do not give up all, their walk is uneven, and their spirit has not that savour of brokenness and true humility which is the chief ornament of our holy profession. If they do not feel the plague of their hearts at first, they find it out afterwards, and too often manifest it to others. Therefore, though I know the Spirit of the Lord is free, and will not be confined to our rules, and there may be excepted cases; yet, in general, I believe the old proverb, “Soft and fair goes far,” will hold good in Christian experience. Let us be thankful for the beginnings of grace, and wait upon our Saviour patiently for the increase. And as we have chosen him for our physician, let us commit ourselves to his management, and not prescribe to him what He shall prescribe for us. He knows us, and He loves us better than we do ourselves, and will do all things well.

-John Newton, “Letter to Miss M. Barham,” September 3, 1776

D. A. Carson on personal Bible reading

It’s important to read the Bible regularly, faithfully, and devotionally. I’m a bit suspicious of an approach that advises people to think critically and academically only when they’re preparing a message or doing exegesis, but when reading devotionally to do so without taking notes or consulting a commentary–just to sit there feeling mystical. That’s a mistake.

Personal Bible reading ought to have oomph to it. If you don’t understand something, there’s nothing wrong with taking a commentary off your shelf so that you can understand the passage better. Likewise, if you’re preparing a message, there’s something wrong with a study so detailed and structured that it doesn’t include an element of reverence and fear. According to the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 66:2, God looks to those who are contrite and humble of spirit, and who tremble at his Word. Whether you’re writing a commentary or having your morning devotions, you ought to have the sort of reverence that is always God’s due.

-D. A. Carson [quoted by Jessi Strong in “The Heart & Mind: D. A. Carson on Training Pastors and Making Disciples.” Bible Study Magazine 1 Sept. 2015: 10-14. Print.]

No self-respecting husband acts like this

True story from a highly reliable source:

1) guy marries girl whose character is highly suspect

2) woman proceeds to whore around; husband puts her out [the only time she considers going back to her husband is when she can’t find her way into another man’s bed]

3) after a time the husband decides to win his wife back; he proceeds to sweet talk her & turns on the romance

4) husband marries the woman again [does he expect a different outcome?] but he has to buy her first

5) husband & wife are reunited under new stipulations: she won’t sleep around but neither will he sleep with her. [marriage will consist of protection & provision but appears to lack joy & passion]

No “happily ever after” for this couple–right?

a prayer that reveals a true heart

…O Thou blessed Pilot of the future as of the past, we are so happy to leave all to Thee; but in leaving all to Thee we have one wish, and it is that Thou wouldst in the next year glorify the Father’s name in us more than in any other year of our lives. Perhaps this may involve deeper trial, but let it be if we can glorify God. Perhaps this may involve the being cast aside from the service that we love; but we would prefer to be laid aside if we could glorify Thee better. Perhaps this may involve the ending of all life’s pleasant work and the being taken home–well, They children make no sort of stipulations with their God, but this one prayer ascends from all true hearts this morning, “Father, glorify Thy name”…

Charles Spurgeon, “A Golden Prayer”, The Pastor in Prayer

Picking & choosing from Jesus’ commands

The following is a portion of an e-mail exchange I had with a long time friend. Let’s call him B Lamb…actually Benjy L…better yet we’ll just call him BL to protect his identity. Anyway, BL’s questions surround a church’s seemingly arbitrary application of Jesus’ teaching in Mat 5:27-45 (take a quick read for yourself if you’re not familiar w/ the passage). BL’s questions/comments lead off (italicized) w/ the first half of my response (w/ minor editing) following. The 2nd half of my response will follow in a subsequent post.

Why do we take the words about divorce so literally when we do not take anything else taught in that passage literally? No one cuts out their eye or cuts off their hands. We make promises all the time instead of just letting our yes be yes. We fight back against those that hurt us. And we kill our enemies instead of praying for them and doing good to them. But we have strict guidelines about who we allow to get married in our church based on this verse!?! So the only logical conclusion that I come to based on how we practice these verses is that everything Jesus taught in this passage was metaphorical except His teaching about divorce – that is literal.

1) Sadly, it’s easier to hold a literal interpretation on a teaching that doesn’t affect you personally. Many (most?) of us don’t think they have to worry about divorce so it’s easier to take a hard line there than on persecution, swearing, etc. where we’re more likely to be confronted w/ Jesus’ teaching in real life.

2) Christian obedience will always be a progressive work. To a certain extent I shouldn’t find it shocking to find inconsistency in our application of Scripture. Our objective is to commend Spirit-led obedience where it’s found and to challenge ourselves in those areas where we lack. The church’s fidelity to Christ’s teaching on marriage/divorce can be used as a platform to promote greater fidelity to swearing & persecution teaching. (see, for example, Jesus simultaneously commending & convicting churches in Rev 2-3). As we commend & challenge we serve the church well to pray for a greater work of the Spirit to get our eyes wide open.

3) Cultural setting can affect how we interpret & implement certain commands. “Pray for those who persecute you” has a radically different meaning for a constitutionally protected American Christian when compared to an Afghan Christian. It can be difficult to chart a path for living out Christ’s commands when society affords me additional privileges and protections—especially when those protections are God ordained. In certain instances even Paul took advantage of civil law rather than take a beating or suffer a miscarriage of justice (Acts 16:37; 22:25; 25:11).

what am I to think of a gracious greeting to a disgraceful church?

Our adult Sunday school classes just started an 8-month study through 1Corinthians. No doubt the ensuing study & discussion will generate numerous posts of which today’s entry is the first.

If it’s possible for a church to live in infamy the Corinthian church would have to be exhibit A. Compile a list of the issues Paul was forced to correct in the letter you’ll find the Corinthians guilty of abrasive individualism, divisiveness, (one count of) incest, a disregard for corporate holiness, spiritual pride, shameful lawsuits against fellow church members, abusing Christian liberty, drunkenness at communion, disorderly worship services, a lack of love, the misuse/abuse of spiritual gifts, and a denial (by some) of the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Now it’s one thing to recognize one or two of these sins in any given church, it’s quite another to find all of these failures in one church at one time!

What then are we to make of Paul’s absurd greeting to this misfit church in 1Cor 1:1-9 where he speaks of these people as saints and thanks God for the display of His grace(!?!) in their lives? I don’t have time to elaborate on the following “takeaways” but most should be self-explanatory.

When I read 1Corinthians and then re-read Paul’s greeting I…

…recall that apart from Christ there is none righteous, not even one.

…marvel that a holy God justifies the ungodly and declares me to be sanctified, a “holy one” in His sight.

…claim the title of “saint” on the basis of Christ’s finished cross-work yet I strive to live in light of my new name.

…feel ashamed to see how insensitive I am to sin’s corruption, how slow I am to repent, and how little zeal I have for God’s righteousness.

…remember that even God’s grace (whether in pardon or power for living) can be abused and perverted by pride.

…rejoice to think that God’s grace for today will be overtaken by a greater grace in a day to come.

…rest in the knowledge that God is faithful to fulfill all of His promises and that He is certain to finish the work He began.