Sunday, May 31, 2009

Letter from John Newton, January 27, 1778

My dear friend,

At present it is January with me, both on the inside and the outside. The outward sun shines and looks pleasant, but the beams are faint, and too feeble to dissolve the frost.

It is just the same in my heart. I have many bright and pleasant beams of truth in my mind's view, but they have but little power to warm my heart and, therefore, cold predominates in my frost-bound spirit!

I could tell a stranger something about Jesus, which would perhaps astonish him--such a glorious person is He! Such wonderful love! Such humiliation! Such a life! Such a death! I could tell of what He is in Himself, and what He is to His people! What a sun! What a shield! What a fortress! What a friend! My tongue can run on upon these themes sometimes; and could my heart keep pace with it, I would be the happiest fellow in the country! Stupid creature! to know these things so well and yet be no more affected with them!

Indeed, I have reason to be upon ill terms with myself! It is strange that pride should ever find anything in my experience to feed upon, but this completes my character for folly, vileness and inconsistency, that I am not only vile, but proud! And though I am convinced I am a very wretch and am nothing before the Lord, yet I am prone to go forth among my fellow-worms, as though I were wise and good!

You ask me what I am doing. I must admit that too much of my time passes in busy idleness and too much in waking dreams. I aim at something, but hindrances from within and externally make it difficult for me to accomplish anything! I dare not say that I am absolutely idle, or that I willfully waste much of my time. I have seldom one hour free from interruption-- letters come that must be answered, visitors who must be received, and business which must be attended to. I have a good many sheep and lambs to look after--sick and afflicted souls, dear to the Lord--and these must not be neglected. Among these various responsibilities, night comes before I am ready for noon!

O precious, irrecoverable time! O that I had more wisdom in redeeming and improving you!

I beg you to pray for me. I am a poor creature and full of needs. I seem to need the wisdom of Solomon, the meekness of Moses, and the zeal of Paul to enable me to fulfill my ministry.

- John Newton

Friday, May 29, 2009

Jesus-- Egomaniac or Lord of All?

Last Tuesday, May 13, National Public Radio (NPR) played an interview with an author who quoted Jesus in Matthew 10:37-38 and asked in his book, “Who is the egomaniac speaking these words?” What Jesus said was:

"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his rossand follow me is not worthy of me."

Jesus is clearly demanding that we treasure him over everyone and everything else. To many people today, that is sheer egomania. They see that Jesus demands that we love him more than anyone—that we follow him, trust him, enjoy him, be satisfied in him, delight in him, obey him more than anyone else. That’s true. He does. And their response is exactly the opposite of John the Baptist: "He must increase--I must decrease." They remain where Nicodemus was. Flabbergasted (John 3:9). Or appalled and offended.

- John Piper

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Fight

A Letter from John Newton written September, 1764

My dear Madam,

I understand something of your warfare. Paul describes his own case in few words, "Conflicts on the outside, fears on the inside." Does not this comprehend all you would say? And how are you to know experimentally either your own weakness or the power, wisdom and grace of God seasonably and sufficiently, except by frequent and various trials? How are the graces of patience, resignation, meekness and faith to be discovered and increased, except by the exercise of trials?

The Lord has chosen, called, and armed us for the fight! Shall we wish to be excused from the battle? Shall we not rather rejoice that we have the honor to appear in such a cause, under such a Captain, such a banner and in such a company?

God has graciously provided:

- a complete suit of armor

- formidable weapons

- precious balm to heal us if we receive a wound

- precious cordials to revive us when we are in danger of fainting

Further, we are assured of the victory beforehand! O what a crown of glory is prepared for every conqueror, which Jesus, the righteous Judge and gracious Savior, shall place upon every faithful head with His own hand!

So let us not be weary and faint, for in due season we shall reap! The time is short! In a little while, the struggle of sin and all the conflicts surrounding us shall be known no more! "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life!" Revelation 2:10

- John Newton

Not a Neutral World

Jesus did not come to a neutral world with the result that some people moved from neutrality to be anti-Jesus, and others moved from neutrality to be pro-Jesus. Nobody was neutral. And nobody is neutral. We have all sinned. We are all guilty. We are all perishing. Therefore, we are all under God’s righteous wrath. And we are already condemned.

Whether we stay that way depends on how we respond to Jesus. He came not to make neutral people into pro-Jesus people, but to make guilty people non-guilty, condemned people not condemned, and to make dead people eternally alive. God does not owe anybody acquittal or life. That Jesus came to offer it and that some accept it, is all undeserved grace.

- John Piper

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Trap of Academic Studies

From a letter of John Newton to a friend

Dear friend,

I truly pity those who rise early and study late, with no higher prize and prospect in view than the obtaining of academic honors! Such pursuits will before long appear as they really are-- vain as the foolish games of children! May the Lord impress them with the noble ambition of living to and for Him. If these scholars, who are laboring for pebbles under the semblance of goodly pearls, had a discovery of the Pearl of great price, how quickly and gladly would they lay down their admired attainments and become fools, that they might be truly wise! Their academic studies, if taken in their entirety, are little better than splendid trifles!

Friend, what a snare have you escaped! You would have been nothing but a scholar had not God visited your heart and enlightened you by His grace! Now I trust you account your former academic gains as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus. What you have attained in the way of learning, will be useful to you if sanctified, and chiefly so by the knowledge which you have of its insufficiency to any valuable purpose in the great concerns of life of knowing God and walking with Him!

- John Newton

Friday, May 22, 2009

He Does as He Pleases

"For the Lord Almighty has purposed--and who can thwart Him? His hand is stretched out--and who can turn it back?" Isaiah 14:27

To say that God is sovereign, is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will.

Whatever takes place in time is but the outworking of that which He has decreed in eternity. The sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible and infinite!

We insist that God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases!

"But our God is in the heavens--He has done whatever He has pleased!" Psalm 115:3

"The Lord does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths!" Psalm 135:6

"All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: What have you done?" Daniel 4:35

- A. W. Pink

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Throwing the Dice

"We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall." Proverbs 16:33

If the fall of the dice is under the Lord's control, then whose is the arrangement of our whole life? If the simple casting of the dice is guided by Him, how much more the events of our entire life, especially when we are told by our blessed Savior, "The very hairs of your head are all numbered! Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father!" It would bring a holy calm over your mind, dear friend, if you were always to remember this. It would so relieve your mind from worry that you would be the better able to walk in patience, calmness, and cheerfulness, as a Christian should.

When a man is anxious, he cannot pray with faith or serve his Master. When you worry and fret about your lot and circumstances, you are meddling with Christ's business, and neglecting your own! You have been attempting "providing" work and forgetting that it is yours to "obey". Be wise and attend to the obeying, and let Christ manage the providing.

Come and survey your Father's storehouse, and ask whether He will let you starve while He has laid up so great an abundance in His garner! Look at His heart of mercy and ask if that heart can ever prove unkind! Look at His inscrutable wisdom and ask if that wisdom can ever be at fault. Above all, look to Jesus Christ your Intercessor, and ask yourself, while He pleads, can your Father deal ungraciously with you? If He remembers even sparrows, will He forget one of His poor children?

"Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall." Psalm 55:22

- C. H. Spurgeon

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Should Preachers be Paid?

The following question came to me this week from a dear brother regarding the financial support of a pastor:

"Mack-- I have a quick question- Have you heard of a book called "Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna? I an email from a person in our church regarding this, and I have never heard of this book or the authors. I shared the Scriptures in 1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim about pastors/elders being supported by the church, and how it is biblical. Just curious if you have heard of this book or the authors? A person I know is reading this book and it is scaring me. The book states that churches shouldn't meet in buildings and that pastors shouldn't be paid because all the tithes should go toward the poor, widows, orphans, etc. So now someone I know says they are going to a house church with a couple who read this book because they want an "organic church." The book repeatedly refers to Paul as the model pastor who refused money for his preaching. But according to the negative reviews of the book, the only verses cited in the book are those which support the authors' viewpoint."

My reply

Dear brother,

These men, Mr. Viola and Mr. Barna, do not know the Bible well enough or they would not espouse such a view, much less, write a book that states such a position. It is a radically extreme tangent steming from Emergent theology which they are teaching that is not the position of the New Testament. To put it simply, they are wrong about this.

Viola and Barna cite the apostle Paul's refusal of any financial support in 1 Corinthians 9 as their proof text to say categorically that no pastors or ministers ought to be financially supported.

Let's think about the issue more fully. Paul, as a pioneering apostle, preached the gospel and was establishing churches in areas where the gospel had never been preached; thus he made a free choice to not receive any support directly from the places where he was laboring, NOT as a permanent pastoring elder, but as a missionary who would be moving on after the church was established. He did this directly for the purpose that no one in such a context could ever say that he came there to preach with wrong motives for money.

But If one takes the time to include all the verses that address the issue, they have to include not only 1 Cor. 9:7-14, but also Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7, and 1 Tim. 5:17-18, all of which directly teach the financial support of preachers, evangelists, or pastoring elders.

This is not an unclear or complicated issue. You have to be either biblical ignorant or dishonest with what Scripture actually says on this point to deny the clear teaching of the New Testament that the financial support of ministers is a God-ordained principle of truth. Men who are called of God have the freedom to decline support and they often do, for various reasons. But any biblical church does not have the freedom to withhold the support or to view it as being wrong or questionable. God has given commandment that it ought to be provided.

Let's look at what both Paul and Jesus say about this issue of the support of gospel ministers.

In 1 Cor. 9:7-14, Paul clearly teaches that ministers are to be supported; the context without question is the gospel ministry and the physical, financial support that ought to come to those who labor in it. Far from arguing against the support of preachers, Paul is arguing FOR it.

In vs. 7, he uses three illustrations, all which are chosen to affirm support of preachers by churches:

1) "Do soldiers go to war or give service at their own expense?"-- obvious implication- NO

2) "Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of the fruit?"-- obvious answer- NO ONE

3) "Who feeds a flock and does not drink some of the milk of the flock?" -- obvious answer- NO ONE

The three illustrations all are given to confirm a universal truth-- those who labor at something are to be rewarded with provision directly because of that labor and in proportion to that labor.

Then in vss. 8-10, Paul affirms that this is not just his opinion, when he says, "Am I saying these things just as a man? Or does not the law say the same thing? for it is written in the law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn' (Deut. 25:4); does God take care of oxen? Or, says He it altogether for our sakes? for our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he that plows should plow in hope and he that threshes in hope should partake of his hope." Thus Paul affirms, without question, that this is not just his opinion but rather is God's ordinance.

Paul then applies this to the Old Testament priests, which he refers to in vs. 13: "Do you not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?"

Then the finishing statement is beyond question in verse 14, which verse has only thus far been illustrated by Paul, but now he says it openly and directly: "Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel."

Paul has said that he has chosen, in his particular situation, to forgo that privilege because he is an apostle: "Nevertheless, we have not used this power, but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ." (vs. 12) Paul, laboring where the gospel has never been preached, chooses this path to make absolutely sure that no one can ever say that he has come into a geographical area as a stranger and is preaching with a motive for financial gain. That is why he gives his example, not as the rule, but as the exception to the rule.

His example of declining support is the exception, not the rule; otherwise, why would he argue so clearly for the support of ministers if he is setting his example forth as the rule to follow? His entire teaching through this chapter affirms that pastoral support is right and is to be commended rather than avoided. Paul's choice to decline it is for himself, but he never even infers this to be the standard for all other ministers, especially elders who labor pastorally in a local church.

So 1 Corinthians 9, which contains Paul's decline of ministerial financial support, is a powerful argument FOR ministerial support-- that it is the revealed will of God and is the general principle which ought to be followed. Ministers can decline available support if their situation lends itself to that choice, but the church never has the freedom to withhold it or for anyone to judge a man wrong if he receives it.

Then we come to 1 Timothy 5, which contains instructions for the local church, such as the treatment of older men, younger men, widows, and then elders, which are pastoring elders in the church. In vs. 17, he says: "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine." Paul here makes a clear statement of command concerning what the church is to do toward the support of their pastoring elders, especially for those who "labor (work hard at) at preaching and teaching." The church is to give "double honor" to those who do this, and then he clarifies and defines what that means, making it clear that he is talking about support in the physical (carnal) and financial realm by quoting again Deut. 25:4, what he's already said to the Corinthians on the same issue in 1 Corinthians 9:9: "You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn", thus affirming to Timothy that this is divine law and the reveal standard of God.

Secondly, in the same verse 18, Paul quotes Jesus from Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7, where our Lord, in sending out preachers and evangelists, stated that "the laborer is worthy of his hire", thus showing the Lord gave clear instruction that the gospel laborer will be provided for in and through his labors in the kingdom.

When these texts are seen in their context, it is clear that Paul was not giving his example of declining support as the obligatory rule for all ministers who are pastoring or preaching. Instead, both Paul and Jesus affirm that such support is correct, logical, needed, and is the revealed will of God.

By the way, it is also true that other churches DID support Paul at different times, especially the Philippian church, which he makes abundantly clear in his writings.

So in using Paul's example of declining support, Viola and Barna tell only half the story, give half the facts and half the truth, if indeed this is what they mean, when they conclude and teach others that it is wrong to pay preachers or elders because Paul was not supported. This completely misrepresents the New Testament position.

It's sad and too bad that people are led to extreme and tangent positions on such issues by men who clearly do not know what they are talking about, but want to convince the wider evangelical community that they do. Regarding this area of eccelessiology in church life and doctrine, their position is a departure from the entire history of evangelical truth. These men ought to stick to what they do best, whatever that is, which is not interpreting the Bible. On this issue, Viola and Barna are weighed in the balance of biblical truth and are found to fail the test. The New Testament clearly teaches that ministers and pastors ought to be supported. Those who disagree are simply wrong because they are either misinformed, uninformed or dishonest.

I suppose the conclusion concerning our brother's question at the beginning is simply this-- Perhaps we ought to agree with Jesus and Paul on this matter of paying preachers rather than Viola and Barna. That, to me, seems very safe and much healthier for the church of Jesus Christ and the advance of the gospel.

And a final word to all you laborers-- you are worthy of your hire!! Jesus is the one who said it; Praise the Great Shepherd of the sheep for that abiding truth! So keep on laboring !!

- Mack Tomlinson

Monday, May 11, 2009

Solomon's Final Verdict

"Behold, all is vanity!" Ecclesiastes 1:14

Nothing can fully satisfy a person except the love of God and the Lord himself. Christians have tried other pursuits, but they have been driven out of such fatal refuges.

Solomon, the wisest of men, was permitted to make experiments for us all and to do for us what we must not dare to do for ourselves. Here is his testimony in his own words: "So I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind! Nothing was gained under the sun!" "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!"

What! Is the whole of it meaningless? O favored monarch, is there nothing in all your wealth? Nothing in that wide dominion reaching from the river even to the sea? Nothing in your glorious palaces? Is there nothing in all your music, dancing, wine and luxury? "Nothing!" he says, "but a chasing after the wind!" This was Solomon's final verdict after he had trodden the whole round of pleasure.

To embrace our Lord Jesus, to dwell in His love, and be fully assured of union with Him--this is all in all. Dear reader, you need not try other forms of pleasure in order to see whether they are better than Christ. If you roam the whole world, you will see no sights like a sight of the Savior's face! If you could have all the comforts of life without the Savior, you would be most wretched. But if you possess Christ, though you should you rot in a dungeon, you would find it a paradise! Though you should you live in obscurity or die with famine, yet you would be satisfied with the favor and goodness of the Lord!

- C. H. Spurgeon

Friday, May 8, 2009

Avoiding Word Wars over Secondary Questions

"Be careful to devote yourself to good works." Titus 3:8

"Avoid foolish questions." Titus 3:9

Our days are few, and are far better spent in devoting ourselves to good works than in disputing over matters which are, at best, of minor importance. Incessant discussion of subjects of no practical value do a world of mischief. Our churches suffer much from petty wars over secondary points and unimportant questions. After everything has been said that can be said, neither party is any the wiser! Therefore, the discussion no more promotes knowledge or love! It is foolish to sow in so barren a field.

Questions upon . . .

points wherein Scripture is silent;
mysteries which belong to God alone;
prophecies of doubtful interpretation;
modes of observing mere human ceremonies

--are all foolish! Wise men will avoid them! Our business is neither to ask nor answer foolish questions, but to avoid them altogether! If we observe the apostle's precept to be careful to devote ourselves to good works, we shall find ourselves far too much occupied with profitable business to take much interest in unworthy, contentious, and needless talk!

There are, however, some questions which are the reverse of foolish, which we must not avoid, but fairly and honestly answer, such as these:

Am I growing in grace and Christ-likeness?
Does my life adorn the doctrine of my Savior?
What more can I do for Jesus?

Such questions and concerns as these urgently demand our attention!

If we have been at all given to arguing and disputing, let us now turn to a service so much more profitable. Let us endeavor to lead others, both by our precept and example, to "avoid foolish questions."

- C. H. Spurgeon

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Last Testimony John Brown, an 18th Century British Christian

'If I never write to you more, let these be my last words: There is none like Christ-- none like Christ-- none like Christ. Nothing like redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. There is no learning nor knowledge like the knowledge of Christ, no life like Christ living in the heart by faith, no work like the service of Christ, and no riches or wealth like the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Little as I know of Christ (and it is my sin and shame that I know so little of Him), I would not exchange the learning of one hour's fellowship with Christ for all the academic learning in ten thousand universities, even if angels were my teachers. Nor would I exchange the pleasure my soul has found in a word or two about Christ for all the pleasures of creation since the world began. For what would I exchange being forever with Christ, to behold his glory and see Him as He is and enter into the joy of my Lord?'

- John Brown of Haddington

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

He Changes Not

"I am the Lord--and I do not change!" Malachi 3:6

It is well for us that, in the midst of all the alterations and changes of life, there is always--

One whom change cannot affect,

One whose heart can never alter,

One on whose brow mutability can make no furrows.

All other things have changed--all other things are changing. The sun itself grows dim with age. The world is waxing old--the heavens and earth must soon pass away and perish! There is One alone, who has immortality, of whose years there is no end, and in whose person there is no change.

The delight which the sailor feels, when, after having been tossed about for many a day, he steps again upon the solid shore, is the satisfaction of a Christian when, amid the changes of this troubled earthly journey, he rests the foot of his faith upon this truth: "I am the Lord and I do not change!" The stability which the anchor gives the ship when it has at last obtained a hold-fast, is like that which the Christian's hope affords him when it fixes itself upon this glorious truth.

"With Him there is no variation!" Whatever His attributes were of old, they are now! His power, His wisdom, His justice, His truth, are alike unchanged. He has ever been the refuge of His people, their stronghold in the day of trouble--and He is their sure Helper still.

He is unchanged in His love. He has loved His people with "an everlasting love!" He loves them now, as much as ever He did! And when all earthly things shall have melted in the last conflagration, His love will still wear the dew of its youth.

Precious is the assurance that our God never changes! The wheel of providence revolves, but its axle is eternal love!

- C. H. Spurgeon

Monday, May 4, 2009

They Did Not Know who He Was-- Do We?

"But they did not know who He was." - Luke 24:16

The disciples ought to have recognized Jesus, they had heard His voice so often, and gazed upon that marred face so frequently, that it is amazing that they did not know Him. Yet is it not so with you also? Have you seen Jesus lately? You have been to His table and you have not met Him there. You are in a dark trouble, and though He plainly says, "It is I--do not be afraid," yet you do not recognize Him. Alas! our eyes are blinded! We know His voice; we have looked into His face; we have leaned our head upon His bosom, and yet, though Christ is very near us, we are saying, "O that I knew where I might find Him!"

We should know Jesus, for we have the Scriptures to reflect His image. Yet how frequently we open that precious book and have no glimpse of our Well-beloved! Dear child of God, are you in that state? Jesus walks through the glades of Scripture, and desires to commune with His people. Yet you are in the garden of Scripture, but cannot see Him, though He is always there!

Make it your prayer, "Lord, open my eyes--that I may see my Savior present with me!" It is a blessed thing to desire to see Him. But oh! it is better far to gaze upon Him! To those who seek Him--He is kind; but to those who find Him--He is precious beyond expression!

- C. H. Spurgeon

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Little Did She Know: The Perfection of God's Providence

"Ruth left and entered the field to gather grain behind the harvesters. She happened to be in the portion of land belonging to Boaz, who was from Elimelech's family." Ruth 2:3

"She happened." Yes, it seemed nothing but an accident, but how divinely was it overruled! Ruth had gone forth with her mother-in-law's blessing, under the care of her God, to do humble and honorable toil, and the providence of God was guiding her every step! Little did she know that amid the sheaves she would find a husband, and that he would make her the joint owner of all those broad acres, and that she, a destitute foreigner, would become an ancestor of the great Messiah!

God is very good to those who trust in Him, and often surprises them with unlooked-for blessings. Little do we know what may happen to us in the future; but this sweet fact should cheer us, that nothing which is really good for us shall be withheld from us!

The word "chance" is banished from the Christian's vocabulary, for we see the hand of God in everything. The seemingly trivial events of today or tomorrow, may involve consequences of the highest importance. Take comfort--our Lord deals as graciously with all His servants as He did with Ruth!

- C. H. Spurgeon