Thursday, July 30, 2009

What a Happy Condition We Are In

A Letter from John Newton to his Wife

My dear wife,

I hope you will make good use of the Bible and the throne of grace to preserve you from being infected by the spirit of the world. Ah! what a poor vain thing is the world! We have both found it so at times, though we once loved it, and shall find it so again. May the Lord keep us alert to a sense of its vanity!

Your recent sickness and near prospect of death force upon your mind a conviction of the littleness and vanity of a worldly life. But there is a more pleasing way of learning this lesson, if we pay due attention to the Word of God, and pray for the light of His countenance. If He is pleased to make His face to shine upon us, all that the world can offer to bribe and tempt us will appear insignificant and trivial as the sports of children!

What a happy condition we are in! We have peace with God by Jesus Christ, liberty of access to the throne of grace, a saving interest in all God's promises, a sure Guide along the way and a glorious inheritance at our journey's end!

These things were once hidden from us! We were so blinded by the god of this world that we could look no farther than the present life! But, even then, the Lord looked upon us with an eye of mercy. He led us on gradually by a way which we knew not, to bring us into the path of eternal peace.

Though death will eventually part us, we shall soon meet again to part no more, to be forever with the Lord, to join in an eternal song to Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood! Then all tears shall be wiped from our eyes and we shall weep no more forever!

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him!" 1 Corinthians 2:9

- John Newton

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Oyster Man

In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One man used Luke 19:21 as his text. "Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou are an austere man." Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of "an oyster man."

He explained how a diver must grope in dark, freezing water to retrieve oysters. In his attempt, he cuts his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. After he obtains an oyster, he rises to the surface, clutching it "in his torn and bleeding hands." The preacher added, "Christ descended from the glory of heaven into ....sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven. His torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest."

Afterwards, a number of people professed to trust in Christ. Later that night, someone came to Wesley to complain about unschooled preachers who were too ignorant even to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. The Oxford-educated Wesley simply said, "Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight."

Our best may not always measure up to the standards of others. But God takes our inadequacies and humble efforts and uses them for His glory.

- Geoff Thomas

This story is obviously not an excuse for inaccurate use and handling of the Scriptures; but it does tell us that God graciously overrules our imperfections and flaws and uses His Word whenever and with whomever He chooses.

- Mack T.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Discerning Idolatry in Enjoyment, Pt. 2

7. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it awakens a sense of pride that we can experience this delight while others can’t. This is especially true of delights in religious things, like prayer, Bible reading and ministry. It is wonderful to enjoy holy things, but it is idolatrous to feel proud that we can.

8. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is oblivious or callous to the needs and desires of others. Holy enjoyment is aware of others’ needs and may temporarily leave a good pleasure to help another person have it. One might leave private prayer to be the answer to someone else’s.

9. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it does not desire that Christ be magnified as supremely desirable through the enjoyment. Enjoying anything but Christ (like his good gifts) runs the inevitable risk of magnifying the gi ft over the Giver. One evidence that idolatry is not happening is the earnest desire that this not happen.

10. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is not working a deeper capacity for holy delight. We are sinners still. It is idolatrous to be content with sin. So we desire transformation. Some enjoyments shrink our capacities of holy joy. Others enlarge them. Some go either way, depending on how we think about them. When we don’t care if an enjoyment is making us more holy, we are moving into idolatry.

11. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when its loss ruins our trust in the goodness of God. There can be sorrow at loss without being idolatrous. But when the sorrow threatens our confidence in God, it signals that the thing lost was becoming an idol.

12. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when its loss paralyzes us emotionally so that we can’t relate lovingly to other people. This20is the horizontal effect of losing confidence in God. Again: Great sorrow is no sure sign of idolatry. Jesus had great sorrow. But when desire is denied, and the effect is the emotional inability to do what God calls us to do, the warning signs of idolatry are flashing.

For myself and for you, I pray the admonition of 1 John 5:21: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

- John Piper

Discerning Idolatry in Enjoyment, Pt. 1

Most of us realize that enjoying anything other than God, from the best gift to the basest pleasure, can become idolatry. Paul says in Col. 3:5: “Covetousness is idolatry.” “Covetousness” means desiring something other than God in the wrong way. But what does that mean—“in the wrong way”? The reason this matters is both vertical and horizontal. Idolatry will destroy our relationship with God and it will destroy our relationships with people.

All human relational problems—from marriage and family to friendship, to neighbors, to classmates, and colleagues—all of them are rooted in various forms of idolatry; that is, wanting things other than God in wrong ways. So here is my effort to think biblically about what those wrong ways are. What makes an enjoyment idolatrous? What turns a desire into covetousness, which is idolatry?

1. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is forbidden by God. For example, adultery, fornication, stealing and lying are forbidden by God. Some people at times feel that these are pleasurable, or else we would not do them. No one sins out of duty. But such pleasure is a sign of idolatry.

2. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is disproportionate to the worth of what is desired. Great desire for non-great things is a sign that we are beginning to make those things idols.

3. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is not permeated with gratitude. When our enjoyment of something tends to make us not think of God, it is moving toward idolatry. But if the enjoyment gives rise to the feeling of gratefulness to God, we are being protected from idolatry. The grateful feeling that we don’t deserve this gift or this enjoyment, but have it freely from God’s grace, is evidence that idolatry is being checked.

4. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it does not see in God’s gift that God himself is more to be desired than the gift. If the gift is not awakening a sense that God, the Giver, is better than the gift, it is becoming an idol.

5. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is starting to feel like a right, and our delight is becoming a demand. It may be that the delight is right. It may be that another person ought to give you this delight. It may be right to tell them this. But when all this rises to the level of angry demands, idolatry is rising.

6. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it draws us away from our duties. When we find ourselves spending time pursuing an enjoyment, knowing that other things or people should be getting our attention, we are moving into idolatry.

To Be Continued

- John Piper

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Lord Preserves His People: A Letter from John Newton

March 1, 1769

Dear madam,

Through grace I can say that, as I never saw more of my own vileness, so I never saw Jesus more precious and desirable than now, or was more clearly sensible of the vanity of everything without Him than I have been lately. "None but Jesus!" is my motto. All wisdom, righteousness, holiness and happiness, which does not spring from and center in Him, I renounce! The heart is deceitful, the world is ensnaring, and the enemy is subtle and powerful. But we know Him who has said, "My grace is sufficient for you!" He is able to keep us from falling, in every circumstance and situation to which His providence calls us.

The Lord preserves His people by putting His fear in their hearts, by making them sensible of their dangers, and drawing them to come boldly to His throne of grace, that they may obtain mercy and find grace to help in every time of need.

Our daily prayer should be, "Hold me up--and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117

- John Newton

Monday, July 20, 2009

What's up with the Rapture?

This question came to me this week:

"Concerning the rapture, which one is true-- Post trib, Pre trib, Mid-trib or what? what is your view? Just wondering, it has been brought up several times this week in our Bible study."
My reply:

This obviously is a long, complicated discussion; we would have to talk some in person on this sometime to make it workable rather than by email;
Honestly, to me it doesn't matter much; many godly men disagree on this area of biblical doctrine, not just on the so-called rapture (a word not found in the New Testament), but even disagreeing on the millenial reign of Christ and the major details of the Lord's future return. There have been godly, Christ-honoring saints over the centuries who have been pre-millieniallists, some post-mil and some amil. That's just the way it is. If a person can't acknowledge that, they will just remain ignorant.

It seems clear that the main emphasis and main points in the N. T. are these about the Second Coming:

Jesus is coming

- He's coming soon
- He's coming visibly
- He's coming bodily
- He's coming in final cosmic judgment
- He's coming to take his bride to heaven
- He's coming to judge the dead & living
- He's coming to wrap up human history
- He's coming to establish perfect righteousness
- He's coming to rule and reign forever and ever
- He's coming to make us perfectly like Him
- He's coming to receive us unto Himself forever

He is coming for me, so I am to be about my sanctification with a passion, as John says to us in 1 John:

"Beloved, now we are the sons of God and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is; And everyone who has this hope (the Second Coming as a believer- MT) purifies himself, even as He is pure."
- 1 Jn. 3:2-3

Therefore, what do Jesus and the N. T. writers tell us to be concerned about regarding future eschatological reality?

"BE READY . . . for you know not the hour that the Son of Man cometh"

"Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure."

That is my eschatolgy and I am satisfied in my heart that this is enough for any Christian to know.

Obviously there is more to it, but that is what the New Testament majors on and emphasizes. I am satisfied to know that much and by God's grace, to endeavor to live in light of it. I will leave the more complicated details to the smart guys.

- Mack Tomlinson

The Life of Faith is Great Security

The life of faith is a happy life. Though it is attended with conflicts, there is an assurance of victory. If we sometimes get a wound, there is healing balm near at hand. If we seem to fall, we are raised again. And, if tribulations abound, then consolations shall much more abound. Is it not happiness to have an infallible Guide, an invincible Guard, and Almighty Friend?

It is bliss to be able to say of the Maker of heaven and earth, "He is my Beloved, Shepherd, Saviour, and my Husband, the husband of his bride!"

Oh, the peace which flows from believing that all the events in which we are concerned are under His immediate disposal, that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, that He delights in our prosperity, that there is a divine reason and need if we are in heaviness, and that all things shall surely work together for our good!

How happy to have such views of His sovereignty, wisdom, love, and faithfulness as will enable us to meet every difficult dispensation with submission, and to look through the painful changes of the present life to that unchangeable inheritance to which the Lord is leading us, when all evil shall cease, and where our joy shall be perfect and eternal!

- John Newton

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Worst Thing Possible on Earth--Sinners being left to Themselves

"They are joined to their idols--let them alone!" - Hosea 4:17

God sometimes leaves men to themselves, and then their furious passions are unchained, and they are given up, without restraint, to the lusts of their own evil hearts! A more dreadful judgment than this cannot be inflicted on this side of hell.

Matthew Henry said, "People go on in sin until the Lord says, 'Let them alone!' Then they receive no more warnings and feel no more convictions. Satan takes full possession of them and they ripen for destruction! It is a sad and sore judgment for any man to be left alone in sin! Those who are not disturbed in their sin will be destroyed for their sin! May we be kept from this dreadful condition, for the wrath of God, like a strong tempest, will soon hurry all impenitent sinners into eternal ruin!"

- John Newton

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Seeing Faults in Others and Seeing Yourself Properly

"Receive one another, just as Christ has received you, in order to bring praise to God." Romans 15:7

The Christian, especially he who is advanced and established in the life of faith, has a fervent zeal for God--for the honor of His Name, His Word and His Gospel. The honest warmth of zeal which he feels when God's Word is broken, when His Gospel is despised, and when the great and glorious name of the Lord his God is profaned, would, by the occasion of his infirmities, often degenerate into anger or contempt towards those who err, if he was under the influence of zeal alone.

But his zeal is blended with benevolence and humility; it is softened by a consciousness of his own frailty and fallibility. He is aware that his knowledge is very limited in itself, and very faint in its transforming power in his own life; that his attainments are weak and few, compared with his deficiencies; that his gratitude is very disproportionate to his obligations; and that his obedience is unspeakably short of conformity to his prescribed rule; that he has nothing but what he has received, and has received nothing but what, in a greater or less degree, he has either misapplied or not used. He is, therefore, a debtor to the mercy of God and lives upon His multiplied forgiveness.

The Christian also makes the gracious conduct of the Lord towards himself a pattern for his own conduct toward others. He cannot boast of himself nor is he anxious to censure others. He considers himself, lest he also fall. Thus he learns tenderness and compassion to others and to bear patiently with those mistakes, blemishes, and faults in others, which once belonged to his own character, and from which, as yet, he is not free.

He therefore acts in character, as the follower of Him who was compassionate towards the infirmities and mistakes of His disciples, and taught them gradually, as they were able to bear it, and not everything at once.

But then, the same considerations which inspire him with meekness and gentleness towards those who oppose the truth, strengthen his regard for the truth itself, and his conviction of its importance. For the sake of peace, which he loves and cultivates, he accommodates himself, as far as he lawfully can, to the weaknesses and mistakes of other sincere Christians; though he is thereby exposed to be censured by 'bigots' of all parties, who deem him flexible and wavering, like a reed shaken with the wind.

But there are other fundamental points, essential to the Gospel, which are the foundations of his hope and the sources of his joy. For his firm attachment to these, he is content to be treated as a 'bigot' himself! For here he is immovable as an iron pillar; nor can either the fear or the favor of man prevail on him to yield the truth of the Gospel, no not for an hour! (Galatians 2:5). Here his judgment is fixed; and he expresses it in simple language, so as not to leave either friends or enemies in suspense, concerning the side which he has chosen or the cause which is nearest to his heart.

Knowing that the Gospel is the wisdom and power of God, and the only possible means by which fallen man can obtain peace with God, he most cordially embraces and avows it. Far from being ashamed of it, he esteems it his glory. He preaches Christ Jesus, and Him crucified. He disdains the thought of distorting, disguising, or softening the great doctrines of the grace of God, to render them more palatable to the depraved taste of the times (2 Corinthians 4:2). And he will no more encounter the errors and corrupt practices of the world with any weapon except the truth of Jesus than he would venture to fight an enraged tiger with a paper sword!

- John Newton

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

No End to His Mercies

Who, of those had seen me as a slave in Africa, could have expected what has since taken place! How unworthy am I of all that I have received and most unworthy of the honor of preaching the Gospel, which I too long despised and blasphemed! The language of Psalm 40:5 suits my soul well, "Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders You have done. The things You planned for us no one can recount to You! Were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare!"

There is no end to the inventory of my mercies! May He who has given so much to me, and done so much for me, add the crowning mercy of a thankful heart! Though I can talk of thankfulness, I feel much insensibility and hardness of heart; but, I know that, while sin dwells in me, it will have such effects.

Alas! though I know in theory what a Christian should be, I am still sadly deficient in practice! I am a poor creature, and see much to be ashamed of every day and in every circumstance. Yet, though sin will distress, it cannot condemn those who believe in Jesus! "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!" Romans 8:1

- John Newton

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Wind is Blowing in East Texas

Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that the work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating men is like the blowing of the wind. I saw this reality this weekend in east Texas, where I had been asked to preach a simple weekend series of meetings for a group south of Longview, Texas, deep in rural east Texas.

I have chosen my words carefully here, so as to not exaggerate, but to give an accurate report. The events are as follows:

I had been asked to preach for the weekend by a young pastor and his wife who had begun a Bible study in their home after seeing some relatives converted. The woman's father and brother, both oil-field workers, had been powerfully saved simply through the witness of this couple and ongoing prayer. These men were transformed and have began to really live for Christ. Others began to be affected by their lives, became hungry for truth and, seeking out other real Christians, began to come to the study. These people come from such backgrounds as Amish, Catholic, Southern Baptist, Independent fundamental Baptist and others.

As the study continued over the weeks, more and more people made their way to this rural countryside home, and before long, their large living room was consistently being filled with people of all ages-- elderly people, middle-age couples, young couples, single people, teenagers, and young children. The simple truths of the Bible began to take hold of hearts and conversions have continued. Now the study has become a steady and real movement of God's grace, in the beginning on Tuesday and Saturday nights, and now on Sundays as well, often until the midnight hour.

As they gather, the singing is fervent with reverence and no foolishness, the praying is orderly, yet genuine and real, and the desire for preaching and for biblical truth is strong. And the presence of God is real and manifested. The wind of God is blowing and people from several counties in east Texas are being affected.

The unique aspect of this work is that it is not a spiritual thunderstorm that has come suddenly, like some think is supposed to happen when the Holy Spirit begins a reviving work. Instead, it is more like a steady, gentle light rain that has continued week after week, which has not stopped for several months.

I had been scheduled several months ago to preach for them, presuming it was just a small church wanting a weekend Bible conference. But when I arrived this weekend, I saw the wind was already blowing. I came into the midst of people living in the reality of the presence of the Lord, with real joy, spiritual hunger for truth, tears, brokenness, genuine love for each other, and a burden for others. From the first minutes that I arrived, I saw God at work. The wind was blowing.

I came to the weekend somewhat tired and battling discouragement. I had planned during the previous week what I would preach. But as I arrived and was preparing, I was convinced that my planned messages were all wrong. I saw God at work already. As I prayed, 2 new passages came to me, with a conviction that I was simply to preach from these, with no further preparation or notes, but was to simply trust the Holy Spirit to apply His truth, as I poured out my heart concerning the meaning of the passages.

As I preached, I began to experience exceptional liberty to share the Word, with great help from the Lord. God was present in reality. The truth began unexpectedly to come forth with unusual freedom and utterance. Among the entire group I observed deep hunger, serious attention, extensive note-taking, and real reception to truth. It was like seeing with your eyes the good soil of receptive hearts spoken of in the parable of the sower. People were being affected right during the preaching, which lasted probably 1 1/2 hours. When I stopped, several asked me to keep going, but I knew I had nothing else to preach at that moment. Questions began to come from all over the group and we continued for another hour, talking about truth, doctrine, conversion, spiritual life and reality, with joy and obvious open-heartedness from the entire group.

After closing the service, the people tarried, sharing, praying, and talking about Scripture, with several seeking the Lord with brokenness until after midnight. As I was trying to doze off to sleep late Saturday night, I was awakened by noise outside my room, as young men were talking about the things of God with zeal and joy, not realizing their voices were keeping some awake. The wind was blowing.

Sunday was just as good. People arrived early; they began to spontaneously sing worship songs and were sharing with joy. They couldn't wait to begin the time. What I had planned to preach in the morning was wrong again. After praying, I took new 2 passages and did the same thing again as the night before, with the message lasting 1 1/2 hours; it seemed like 30 minutes. The message led into conviction, honesty, confession, and questions for over an hour. The wind was still blowing.

In the afternoon around the meal tables, all anyone talked about was Jesus, the Bible, doctrinal issues, holiness, the true gospel, how to love their families, and how to walk with and glorify God. It was an atmosphere of joy and heavenly reality. I had come into a place where the wind was already blowing and I just happened to be blest to get in on it.

The meetings did not continue with me preaching more nights. But the wind was blowing as I left; it was very obvious that this work which had started several months ago has continued until now. It could turn into something more extensive if the wind begins to blow stronger.

As I was experiencing what God was doing this weekend, it was as if the Lord said to my heart, 'I am always at work in the earth and I am always saving people all over the world daily'. The Scripture then came to my heart with joy that speaks of Him being a God that is "working salvation to the ends of the earth."

So please pray for this work of God in east Texas. Ask your church or ministry to pray. It has the same kind of initial marks which were there in some real revivals in history, when the wind of God mysteriously, sovereignly and graciously began to blow. It's blowing now--even in rural east Texas.

- Mack Tomlinson

Getting Older Together: A Letter from John Newton to his wife

"For this God is our God for ever and ever! He will be our guide even unto death!" Psalm 48:14

August 6, 1785

My dear wife,

The Lord has preserved us through a long course of years, and in different situations, from various calamities which have overtaken others. Our obligations to thankfulness are singular and numerous.

Tell our niece Eliza that I love her very dearly. She would soon be well if I could make her so. But she is in better hands than mine! I have a comfortable hope that her illness has been, and will be, sanctified to an end far more desirable than health or life itself. Therefore I leave her to the wise and merciful direction of the Lord, who loves her better than I can.

May the Lord bless this little separation to quicken us to mutual prayer, and to lead us to a thankful review of the mercy and goodness which have followed us through the many years we have been united.

How many changes have we seen! Under how many trials have we been supported! How many deliverances have we known! How many comforts have we enjoyed! Especially, what great advantages have we possessed, in knowing those things which pertain to our everlasting peace!

The years we have passed together will return no more. The afflictions are gone, the pleasures likewise are gone forever. The longer we live, such pleasures as this world can afford will, more and more, lose their power of pleasing. Only our love, I trust, will exist and flourish to the end of life--yes, beyond it! It will always be a truth that the Lord, in giving you to me, gave me the best temporal desire of my heart. But the shadows of the evening advance. Old age is creeping in upon us and the days are approaching when we shall have no pleasure, but what we can derive from the good Word of God, and the consolations of his Holy Spirit. These, if we are favored with them, will sufficiently compensate for the abatement, or the loss, of all the rest. The streams may run dry, but the fountain of living waters will always flow! May His presence be near our hearts and then all will be well.

- John

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Growth in Faith & Grace: A Letter from John Newton to his wife

My dear wife,

What is all below except vanity and vexation! There is no solid comfort or abiding peace except what we derive from God. Once we knew nothing of this. But the Lord directed our path in life, in subservience to the designs of His saving grace. How few of those with whom you were acquainted in your early years, have any right knowledge of God or of themselves. We ourselves set out upon this dreadful plan and if God's mercy had not stopped us, we would have gone on until we had perished with a lie in our own hands! Admire the Lord's goodness in choosing you (as one of a thousand) to the knowledge of His truth when you might have been still swimming down the stream of vanity and folly with the thoughtless multitude!

The great lesson we have to learn is to love and trust the Lord Jesus. We are slow students, but He can teach us effectually. Without Him, the very best of this life is insipid. His presence can make the worst things supportable. He can forgive sin, impart grace, subdue corruption, silence unbelief,
make us strong in our weakness, and do more than we can either ask or think!

And what He does, He does freely, without money and without price! A humble spirit, sincere faith, heart-felt repentance, and every other grace and virtue are all His gifts, which He bestows freely on the unworthy. We have nothing, deserve nothing, and can do nothing; but He is mighty to both save and to preserve all who come to Him in sincere faith and love.

May we grow daily in the knowledge of His grace and views of His excellency. He will surely, though gradually, make Himself known to the heart that sincerely seeks Him. Everything else is vain, uncertain and changeable.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus--the author and perfecter of our faith!" Hebrews 12:2

- John

Friday, July 10, 2009

Christian Friendships- Pt. 3

Favorite author
"A good friend can be a sublime comfort to us in hours of loneliness. And the Christian will meet many occasions of loneliness in his pilgrimage. So we shall both be better in character and lighter in heart if we allow a due place for the forming and fostering of relationships with like-minded brethren. To start the day with a short phone call or a brief note from an esteemed Christian can be the difference between a day of victory or a day of depression and temptation.

"Generally speaking, when we are depressed and dejected, we should seek the remedy, not in private prayer and fasting, but in fellowship and friendship. Martin Luther said that a person ought not to go to prayer primarily when they are depressed, but into the company of good people. Satan is always more menacing when we meet him on our own alone. Half an hour of fellowship, therefore, when the mind is dejected, will often release the springs of our soul and will cause the life-blood of Christian gladness to flow afresh in our veins. Whatever gives us a sense of well-being as Christians is good for us. High on the list of things which brings us a sense of well-being is friendship.

A Christian must ultimately depend upon his Heavenly Father for and in all things. But that does not mean that Jesus is all we need. He is all we need obviously in salvation and for ultimately security and provision. But not in living the Christian life. Jesus is NOT all we need or God would not have ordained our vital need for church life and for other believers in our lives. No Christian can walk alone. Whoever tries to is either ignorant, unwise, or proud, and is in for defeat in their walk. It is only through real fellowship and deeper friendship that we often receive the grace we need to grow and do well spiritually.

In seeking to apply the priority and need of genuine deeper friendships in Christ, we ought to ask ourselves such questions as these:

- Am I a loner and do I remain distance from other believers because I fear closer relationships?

- Am I open to God changing me in this area of my life?

- Can I commit to showing myself friendly to those within my local church fellowship and to other believers I know?

- What hindrances are there in my heart and mind that would keep me from having deeper fellowship and friendship with others?

- Am I will to ask God to bring into my life those he wants to use to minister to me and those he wants me to minister to?

It's possible that one of the biggest needs your Christian life has is being closer to other Christians. So ask God for new and for deeper friendships. And begin to show yourself friendlier in a way that will honor the Lord. He who would have friendships must show himself friendly, and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Do you have one of those? If not, its about time it happened. And God has it waiting for you.

- Mack Tomlinson

Christian Friendships- Part 2

A friendship really working depends on me to preserve it. Friendships do not just automatically continue without commitment and work. That is how I should look at it. But all too often we view it as the other person's responsibility. 'If they did more, it would be better; why haven't they called me?', etc; But the fact is, if I want to have real friendships that are valuable and lasting, the burden is on me to be that kind of a person. 'He who would have friends must show himself friendly'. Do I do that? Probably not enough.

Each Christian ought to do some honest self inventory: 'Do I have an intimate real friend that is vital to my walk? Am I such a friend to anyone? Do I let people get close to me? Do I desire to be such to anyone or am I satisfied with not being close to anyone'?

Favorite author
"It is a common proverb that 'a man is known by his friends'. This means that our intimate friends are what they are to us because they are essentially like us in all that is morally important. We choose our friends, not by accident, but because their souls mirror ours and their minds vibrate in harmony with ours. Friendship begins as soon as this mutual harmony of hearts is felt and it begins to end when the harmony ends. We can be respectful to brethren with whom we feel we have little in common, but it is emotionally impossible for us to count them among our intimate friends.

"Our best friends are those whose company most makes us afraid to sin. These friends are rare and to be valued like solid gold. It is clear that this was the effect which Robert M'Cheyne had upon Andrew Bonar. Bonar could never be the same once he had met M'Cheyne. All his life he remembered this saintly friend, whose presence made God more real to him and, therefore, made sin more foul to him. It is one reason why we should aim more at godliness. An exemplary life may do as much good as a life time of sermons. There are some Christians who impress us by their talents or giftedness. But there are others whose awesome holiness makes us afraid. If we find one friend of this kind, we shall do well to cherish his friendship for life.

Real friendship is not for popularity, not for being liked or making people feel good; it is about real love, seriousness about life, helping each other through anything that comes, and helping each other not sin, but to become increasingly conformed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Real friendship is for the rough times and hard things we go through, not for the fun and entertaining easy times. 'A brother is born for adversity' and 'faithful are the wounds of a friend'. For all of us, the times when we really need true friends to be there for us is not when everything is going well when are we are facing no problems; the time we need true friends to be a true friend is when we are fighting our big battles--discouragement, sickness, church problems, situational pressures, on-going personal hardship that no one knows about, or family death and earthly loss--such times are when friendship is needed the most. That is when people contact their friends at such times--they need them very much for help and encouragement. And that is not wrong; God designed it that way because He has ordained that no Christian can walk out the Christian life properly alone without brethren who are close to them.

Favorite author
"A Christian ought to prize his friendships and to preserve them. Much is owed to true friends. They impose duties and obligations on us which are not to be neglected, even when life is full of business. We become too dogmatic in minor things and the remedy for over-certainty is to listen at times to our friends' judgment of us. 'The wounds of a friend are faithful' (Pr. 27:6), in that they hurt us for our good. Therefore, we should not resent them.

"The temptation we all have is to mainly spend time mainly with those who admire us and never dare to stand up to us or disagree with us. John Wesley would have gotten much improvement if he had listened more to Whitefield. We can be too sure of our opinions and so lose the chance of becoming a better person and a more solid Christian.

"One of the most painful parts of Christian friendship is to be honest with brethren we love when we consider them to be wrong or misguided. We often do not have the moral courage to stand up to our brothers or sisters when they go off on a tangent [or when they are simply wrong about something]. In this, we must remember Paul's faithfulness to stand up to Peter and rebuke him for his position that was a compromised one (Gal. 2:11). Instead, we generally prefer to keep a criminal silence rather than giving a well-timed and proper rebuke. But when we remain silent at such times, we are not acting as friends should. We are not to allow our brother to sin (Lev. 19:17); 'open rebuke is better than secret love' (Pr. 27:5). The Lord Jesus felt no inconsistency in altering his tone of voice to Peter from 'blessed are you, Simon' to 'get thee behind me, Satan' (Mt. 16:23). The two expressions appear to have come from Christ's lips during one conversation. This shows how quickly we must sometimes change our voice from praise to proper blame when dealing with friends in Christ whom we love.

Are you and I honest with our friends when they are wrong? Or are we, as my author friend says, criminally silent, and we hold back from saying what our friends need to hear? When we do this, we are a coward and we care more about our own reputation than we do about our friend. Thus, we are not being a true friend.

"Therefore, the price of real friendship is honesty. A genuine friend must at time be ready to appear judgmental, intrusive, or unfair, even being cruel. But we must be cruel to be kind. Even if we have to wound those we love, we know that it is part of hate, not love, to see our brother wander from the path and let them go unchecked. However much we love our Christian brothers or sisters, we must love the Lord Jesus and the truth more. This sentiment is fully consistent with the gospel and, indeed, is the very essence of Christian friendships. But such friendship is rare because we either lack the courage to correct our brethren in their crankish quirks or else we take it badly when they put their finger on our own cherished sins or inconsistencies.

To Be Continued

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Christian Friendships

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." - Pr. 17:17

"A man that has friends must shew himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother." - Pr. 18:24

I, for one, do not think Solomon was speaking of Christ Himself in Pr. 18:24. I think he was speaking of very special friends God gives that go much deeper than earthly family relationships. I believe he was speaking of a God-given close friendship in our journey in grace.

For some reason, I often think of the importance and power of friendship. I'm not sure why, except that over the course of my life, I have had some very special ones, some that affected me deeply, some that were there to speak words of life when it seemed my heart was dying, and some who simply pursued me and really cared. After saving and sanctifying grace, the ministry of truth, and the ministry of the local church, friends have impacted me more than any other earthly reality. The fact is, a great majority of grace, truth, and edifying church life has been channeled to me through deep and special friendships.

Leonard Ravenhill once said something to the effect that if a person has one true friend in life, he is very rich and has found a rare treasure. I think this is true. But I find that it is a very rare thing for those who consider themselves friends to faithfully pursue one another to keep that friendship a treasure.

In reading my favorite author this week, his words on the subject of friendship are found to be very insightful. Here are some of those thoughts.

"The Christian discovers that, while he has fellowship with all his brothers in Christ, he has special friendships only with some of them. It is not always easy to say why such friendships between some Christians develop or why potential friendships with others come to nothing. But it is a fact which ultimately must have its explanation in the mystery of God's providence.

"The best of God's servants have had special friends--Moses and Joshua, David and Jonathan, Daniel and his brethren, Peter and John, Paul and Timothy; even our Lord had his special relationships with his own disciples. Out of the twelve, three were more intimate--Peter, James, and John. Out of the three, one was unique. Only John was known as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved.'

"Therefore, it appears clear that we as Christians ought not to be surprised to find that we have closer relations with some of God's people than with others. This must certainly not lead us to be dismissive of brethren who are not in our intimate circle of friends. But it reassures us that there is no sin in the Christian having closer ties with some than with other brethren."

Mack talking now
This applies to all of us as believers. We are to love all other believers. We find a minimal Christian bond with all true Christians. And we are duty-bound to love them because Christ does. But isn't it true also that in life we find God giving special friendships that have a knitting, a special kinship, a unique closeness with someone that was not expected, planned or foreseen, and was not humanly produced by us. God just gives it because He purposes it. And when He does, such a friendship is to be cherished, nourished, and maintained by both persons.

The important thing for us to realize about this is that each of us ought to treasure those special friendships and keep them nourished and continuing, certainly not to the neglect of other relationships, but it is a responsibility to pursue those friendships and keep them fresh. It is possible to neglect, presume upon, and be careless about close friendships that God has given and not even know you are doing it. Remember-- 'A man that has friends must shew himself friendly'. The question each of us ought to ask ourselves is: Having I been shewing myself truly as a friend to those friends or have I been neglecting them?

Favorite author again
"It belongs to the genius of our friendships that we must accept our brethren for what they are and extend affection to them accordingly. The gifted brother who cannot bear to be anything other than idolized will have admirers but not friends. There is a significant difference. An admirer cares about us for the sake of our talents or giftings, but a friend loves us for our own sake. Friendship is far more beneficial to us than admiration because it makes sanctifying demands on our character.

"Gifted brethren who want only our admiration are only seeking additional fuel for their own self-love and ego. But genuine friendship leads to the destruction of self-love because it forgets itself in a sincere desire to do good to the other person."

Mack again
I have often wondered how much my pursuing a friendship has been based primarily on my admiring someone or upon how I could benefit from that friendship. Let's face it-- we are all attracted to those who benefit us somehow-- that preacher who deeply ministers to us, that person who makes us feel accepted and loved, that individual who is always interested in how we are doing. Supposed friendships are all too often only about self-centeredness, not self-giving.

"To accept our brethren for what they are, within the bond of Christian friendship, is to leave them room to think and act as they wish, provided they keep within scriptural bounds. This is far from easy because we are all inclined to hold our opinions in lesser matters rather too strongly and, given the opportunity, we tend to squeeze others into our own mold, even in secondary matters. It is much easier to quote Augustine's famous statement than to practice it in our friendships: 'In things essential, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity'."

I have often seen in my heart an alienation happening between myself and brethren who did not agree with me; they were not violating Scripture-- they just had a different opinion or a different position on something than me. So they must be wrong, right? Wrong! But even if they are wrong, can I still love all Christians when I differ from them on some point, even if I feel stronly about it? If I abstain from drinking alcohol, do I relate to in love just as much those who drink wine as those who abstain? Or do I judge them in my heart as being less spiritual because they are doing what they do? If our friendships and our showing ourselves friendly is based upon conditions or complete uniformity with our own personal preferences, then it is not true Christian friendship.

"Friendships are good and necessary for us, just as, in most cases, marriage is necessary. It corrects our angularity and rubs off our corners. The recluse is the first to fall into eccentricities or even error. The more we are alone with ourselves, the more we become like ourselves (Ugh!- MT). It is only when we come back into the circle of our godly friends once again that we realize how awkward or opinionated we have become. We all go astray like sheep, but we go astray less if we keep within the flock and refuse the temptation to wander off into solitary pastures where we are on our own. Healthy Christian character, which is full-orbed, well-rounded, and rich in good fruit, can best be formed within the circle of sanctified friendships."

How are your closest friendships? Are you pursuing those friendships still or has it become a one way street, where you are still pursued but you fail to pursue in return, where they have pursued you but you do not reciprocate? It seems sinful to be this way. When we do this, we are the losers in the equation.

Each of us ought to be a true, consistent, pursuing friend to those special friendships God has given to us. If the friendship continuing and staying fresh depended on how you are toward them, would it remain or dissolved? Don't neglect them. Both you and they are missing out on some good things God has for you both.

To Be Continued

Monday, July 6, 2009

Small Acts of Kindness: Do We Care About the Lost Pennies of a Child We Don't Even Know?

"The Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone." 2 Timothy 2:24

John Newton's biographer writes:

"When Mr. Newton moved to London, being of the most friendly and generous disposition, his house was open to Christians of all social ranks and church denominations. Here, like a father among his children, he used to entertain, encourage, and instruct his friends. Here also the poor, the afflicted, and the tempted found an asylum and a sympathy, which they could scarcely find, in an equal degree, anywhere else. Sometimes his whole day was so graciously spent, that he was found both rejoicing with those who rejoiced and literally weeping with those who wept!

"I remember to have heard him say, 'I see two heaps in this world--of human happiness and misery. If I can take but the smallest bit from one heap--and add to the other, I shall be content. As I am on my way home, if I should meet a child who has lost his penny, and if, by giving him another penny, I could wipe away his tears, I feel I have done something. I would be glad, indeed, to do greater things, but I will not neglect these smaller acts of kindness.'

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Colossians 3:12

- John Newton

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Does This Apply to America Today on the 233rd Birthday of Our Nation?

John Newton did not mince words or compromise the clear honest truth. He wrote, so as to cause his readers to really think about what he was saying. I hope we can hear what he is saying, whether it seems harsh or too strong. -- Mack T.

Concerning 'Handel's Messiah' John Newton wrote:

How shall we view the people of our times? I see the great mass of people involved in one common charge of high treason against the omnipotent God! They are already in a state of imprisonment, but have not yet been brought to their trial. The evidence against them is so plain, so strong and pointed, that there is not the least doubt of their guilt being fully proved and that nothing but a free pardon from God can preserve them from their deserved eternal punishment!

In this situation, it would seem in their best interest to avail themselves of every expedient in their power for obtaining God's mercy. But they are entirely heedless of their imminent danger, and are wholly taken up with contriving methods of amusing themselves, that they may pass away the term of their imprisonment with as much cheerfulness as possible!

Among other resources, they call in the assistance of music and they are particularly pleased with 'Handel's Messiah'. They choose to make the themes of their musical entertainment . . .

the solemnities of their impending judgment,
the character of their Judge,
the methods of His procedure, and
the dreadful punishment to which they are exposed

And, as if they were quite unconcerned in the outcome, their attention is chiefly fixed upon the skill of the composer, in adapting the style of his music to the very solemn subjects with which they are trifling!

The offended King, however, unasked by them, and out of His great mercy and compassion towards those who have no pity for themselves, sends them a gracious message. He assures them that He is unwilling that they should eternally perish; and that He requires, yes, He entreats them to submit to Him! He points out a way in which He offers them a free and a full pardon!

But, instead of taking a single step towards a compliance with His undeserved and gracious offer, they set His message to music, sung for their entertainment, and accompanied with every kind of music!

Surely, if such a case as I have supposed, could be found in real life, though I might admire the musical taste of these people, I would certainly commiserate their stupidity and hardness of heart!

- John Newton

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Vulnerable Heel

"In order that Satan might not outwit us, for we are very familiar with his evil schemes." 2 Corinthians 2:11

Satan knows knows how to suit his temptations to our personal tempers and circumstances. And if, like Achilles, you have a vulnerable heel, the old serpent will be sure to strike there!

"Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil." Ephesians 6:11

-- John Newton

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

From Iain Murray, Co-Founder, The Banner of Truth Trust 25 June 2009

From Iain Murray, Co-Founder, The Banner of Truth Trust
25 June 2009

Dear Friends,
We arrived home from a month in the United States two days ago and there was a welcome pile of letters, as well as e-mails. Instead, then, of trying to repeat news to you all, please forgive another ‘general letter’. Some of you were remembering us in prayer and for that we are especially thankfully. None of us can assume the help of God. A. W. Tozer says somewhere, ‘If the Holy Spirit were taken out of the world, half our activity would go on just the same.’ How much wisdom is needed to keep us from the latter ‘activity’!

We arrived in Washington D.C. on May 20 – no more beautiful city in the world at that time of year, with the red-brick pavements and overhanging trees in the fresh greens of Spring. Our purpose was to catch up with friends at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and 9 Marks Ministry. This is ever a valued stopping place, not least for discussion over authors, new and old. One memorable morning began with a dozen young men and a 7 am ‘reading’ from the Puritan, Richard Sibbes, on 2 Corinthians 1. After Washington, we were in six States, beginning with Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the Banner Conference at near-by Messiah College. At different locations, that conference has now been held since 1978. From there Jean and I went on to Draper’s Valley, the new location of a friend’s ministry among the mountains of south-eastern Virginia. Our host then drove us on to Dillon in South Carolina, and from there two plane flights to Oklahoma City where I had the main engagements of this visit. The occasion was the annual ‘Warfield lectures’ organized by Grace Bible Church in conjunction with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. This was a second visit to these friends in Oklahoma.

Two more planes then took us back to Asheville in North Carolina, and to Bonclarken, the conference centre belonging to the Associate Presbyterian Church (ARP) in the Blue Mountains. The annual General Synod of that denomination was about to commence at that venue. Ministers and elders came from many parts of the United States, and (for some) the days began with 7 am Psalm-singing in the open-air. The meetings over three days were full of interest, and there was more preaching than I had been accustomed to hearing at General Assemblies in Scotland and Australia. The preachers included Sinclair Ferguson (whose congregation belongs to the ARP) and Denis Prutow, professor at the Reformed Presbyterian Sem inary at Pittsburgh, who preached a memorable message from ‘Your God Reigns’ (Isa. 52: 7). The friend of my youth, John R. de Witt, was installed as Moderator for the coming year. The afternoon of each day was marked by thunder storms, and the last of such crashing velocity that all power failed and proceedings concluded in semi-darkness with no microphones. From there we descended, with the de Witts, into South Carolina for a relaxing a happy final period at Columbia where Sinclair Ferguson now ministers at First Presbyterian (
A s well as traveling, I was able to get through a good deal of reading, including the important new volume of Dr Lloyd-Jones’s sermons from John 4, Living Water published by Crossway ($28 in the US, or £28 in the UK from Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust – the price difference shows how expensive the UK has become in comparison with the US).

Impressions from the trip:
1.These few weeks have been a wonderful reminder of how large is the family of God and of w hat a privilege Christians have from their common unity with Christ. The simple thought that Christ is with all his people is more remarkable than we can well comprehend.
2. To travel in America is to be reminded of a nation that is at war. One sees many service men and women moving about in uniform and not infrequently thanked by others for their service to the country. Evangelical chaplains are also active in the armed forces. The mood contrasts with a dying patriotism in Britain.
3. While bearing in mind that what I see is a small and unrepresentative part of a nation, it can nonetheless be said that there is much to be encouraged by in the US. One continuing proof of that is the extent of the sales of good books. The Banner hardbacks at Oklahoma were very rapidly bought up, none remaining. At another place there was no problem in disposing of 50 copies of Andrew Bonar’s Memoir of Robert M. McCheyne. What is more, it is often young men who are at the forefront of this interest in the older literature. We need have no fear that God has forgotten the promise, ‘One=2 0generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts’ (Ps. 145:5).

At the same time it has to be said that there is one element that is currently little to be seen in the churches; the record of all the great revival periods in the US speak of a kind of subdued ‘silence’ that pervaded public worship, arising from a sense of the presence of God. The current lack lies deeper than the difference between so-called ‘traditional’ versus ‘contemporary worship’. At its root lies the lost belief in the gravity of sin and of the posture that becomes us in the presence of God. On this point see chapters 40-42 in ML-J’s Living Water.
4. Much calls us to humiliation and prayer. Calvin’s image of the need of the church remains relevant: ‘Call to mind the fearful calamities of the church, which might move to pity even minds of iron. Nay, set before your eyes her squalid and unsightly form, and the sad devastation which is everywhere beheld. How long, pray, will you allow the spouse of Christ, the mother of you all, to lie thus prostrated and afflicted ­ thus, too, when she is imploring your protection, and when=2 0the means of relief are in your hand?’

- Iain and Jean Murray