Thursday, August 17, 2006

 

Ha ha! A New Home!

I finally figured this website thing out. Visit me at my new, permanent home:

WWW.NEOPURITAN.COM

The new blog will include theological writings, but also a fair bit more personal things. I don't know how the user side of the blog will work, so please let me know if you have any problems or questions. : )

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

 

Living the Life of Esau

"See... that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears." (Heb. 12:16-17)

How often I feel like Esau. Surely my heart is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. My grief is too often not in sin, but in the realization that I cannot grieve! Tears come only when I consider the fact that I cannot cry. I have become like Esau, who would not repent of his wickedness, but instead repented of his lack of repentance with tears! And here stand I, tearless, heartless, loveless, emotionless. My eyes are dry and my repentance seems a mere form of words and the compounding of empty phrases torn from the pages of scripture and of the books of theology I read -- lacking power, lacking depth, lacking heart, lacking tears, I pile one upon another as if by my multitude of words I shall be heard. What good is done if I grieve my lack of grief? If I weep because I cannot weep? What good are these outward manifestations of repentance if I do not truly repent of sin?! What good are all the sweet-sounding words and pious pleas taken from the Psalms if I do not turn from my sin? Will God honor the prayers of one whose heart already conspires to sin against Him? Esau could not discover repentance despite his tears, despite his remorse. His heart had been hardened by sin. The water of his tears was not the water of repentance which comes forth in abundance when God smites the rocky heart of the impenitent, but the water of suffering which comes from selfishness and a loss of reward. They are the tears of those who have been consigned to the Pit. Surely they weep, for Christ has said that in that place "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." But they do not weep in humble penitence, but from a heart filled yet with selfish enmity. They weep for the loss of what they though was due them. How I tremble for them. How I tremble still more for those who still live in the flesh, but not to God! How I tremble more still for my own hard-heartedness, my own lack of penitence, my own lack of love for God and willingness to take up the cross and follow after Him. Shall I know first-hand why the Hell-bound weep? Shall I shed tears of selfishness and gnash my teeth in anger for all eternity? O gracious Lord, save me from such an end! Break this heart of stone! Make water to pour forth! Holy Spirit, I have grieved you many a time. But do not forsake me. Come and purify me. Conform me to the image of Christ. I linger in the valley of humility, I wait upon You, O Lord, to come and guide me in the narrow way. Grant me repentance. Let the waters of life begin in my heart and flow out from my eyes that they may become a mighy river, even as You have promised to all who believe in You!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

 

Refocusing, Renaming, Recreating

What's the purpose of a blog? Some folks use them like a journal -- personal information for friends and family to keep up with their lives. Others use them polemically (I'm thinking of the PyroManiacs here) and post profound articles on various issues. I've wanted to do both. But I've learned quickly that amateur theology and personal reflection do not a good blog make. Augustine's Confessions and Spurgeon's Autobiography have lasting value because of the maturity and usefulness of those men. But me? I'm nobody. And nobody who is anybody wants to read the ramblings of a nobody. So I'm dividing the two. This blog will be more personal from now on. And my new blog will be more instructional / theological. The URL is http://gospeladvocate.blogspot.com and I've created a new blogger profile so I can invite folks from my own non-Reformed heritage to interact with me without causing unnecessary arguments over what "Calvinists" supposedly believe. It may flop completely and turn the link above into a "dead link" in a matter of weeks. Or it may have some involvement and become a potentially useful ministry for my friends and family. But either way, I'll be focusing my attention there for a little while.

-Moozuba

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

 

John Owen Just Cut Me Open

Hey, that rhymes. Anyway... I was manning the office alone today and was told to bring a book. So I brought the one I just got a couple days ago, John Owen's The Mortification of Sin (the Puritan Paperback abridgment). I'm stunned. Really. The first book by Owen that I read was Sin & Temptation, another abridgment / modernization of a part of Owen's Works. I benefitted from the book, but was left with only 5 pages or so of instructions / exhortations concerning the actual practice of mortification. I was afraid that the Puritan Paperback abridgment was more-or-less a reprint of this non-Banner of Truth volume. I later tried to read The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (admittedly one of the best book titles ever). But quite honestly (and all you Calvinists out there, don't hate me for this, okay?) I couldn't stay awake to read more than a few pages in a sitting. Talk about dense. I loved what I got through, but I ended up shelving the book after just 25 pages. So when I picked up The Mortification of Sin on recommendation from a well-meaning brother over at PyroManiacs, I honestly wasn't expecting too much. The fact that it was modernized and abridged made me think I could actually read through it, but I was still nervous about the density of the subject matter. What I read today floored me. It's very rare that a book blindsides me like this. I usually have a pretty good idea what I'm getting myself into when I pick up a new volume. But I have to say, this little 130 page paperback is one of the most powerful, most insightful, most heart-rending works I've ever read!

Chapter 13, "Wait for the Verdict of God" cut to the deepest part of me. It's clear that Owen was wielding the sword of the Spirit aright in these pages. I can't quote everything in that highly-revealing chapter, but here's a little glimpse. Owen's thesis in this section is that mortification is not accomplished when men "speak peace" (extend mercy) to themselves before God does so.

Men also speak peace to themselves when they reason from the gracious promises of God and claim them in a purely rational and natural way. They are no truly repenting as they seek peace for their souls.


Take a man who has a wound caused by his sin and is troubled in his conscience. He has not walked up rightly according to the gospel, and things are not right between God and his soul. He now considers what is to be done. He knows what path he must take, and how he has been healed in the past. He must consider the promises of God. These promises must be applied to heal his sores and his troubled heart.

He comes to them, searches them out, and finds one or more of them whose literal expressions are directly suited to his condition. He says to himself, 'God speaks in this promise to me; I will draw from it a bandage sufficient to cover this wound.' He thus brings the Word to his condition and sets himself down in peace.

The Lord is near, but is not in this wind! The work of the Spirit is not present. The Spirit alone can convince us of sin, righteousness and judgment. This is the work of the intelligent, rational soul, not of the Spirit.

And comments later in answer to objections raised against the above,

Such a course, though it may quiet the conscience, the mind, and the reasonings of the soul, does not sweeten the heart with rest and gracious contentment.... When God speaks, there is not only truth in His words, there is healing. He not only addresses the convictions of our heart and our guilt, He brings that which is sweet, good, and desirable to our will and affections. By these blessings He returns our soul to rest.

I mean, talk about feeling like an ameoba under the microscope! Not all of Owen's insights applied to me directly, but so much of it did -- and in so simple a manner -- that I feel foolish for not having discerned these things myself. But I do see that I have been speaking peace to myself when God has not. I have not waited on the Lord to show mercy, but have appropriated mercy haphazardly and unfulfillingly from the promises of the gospel. I have taken refuge in the promises but have been without the Spirit's comforts. It'll take me a bit of reflection to let the contents of this book sink in, but I hope that I have not read in vain. I will go to God, my strength and my refuge and by His grace will put to death the deeds of the body.

Here's a final example of Owen's profound devotional style. The following prayer is from p. 118-119. I especially like the line "I will lift up my hands that hang down."

I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, and I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is the doorway to the ruin of my soul. I do not know what to do.

My soul has become parched ground, and a habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them. I have made vows, but I did not keep them. Many times I have been persuaded that I have gained the victory, and that I should be delivered, but I was decieved. Now I plainly see that without some great help and assistance, I will perish and be forced to abandon God.

But yet, though this is my state and condition, I will lift up my hands that hang down, and strengthen my feeble knees, for, behold, the Lord Jesus Christ has all the fullness of grace in His heart, and all the fullness of power in His hand. He is able to slay all of these enemies. There is sufficient provision in Him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror!

'Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God"? Have you not known? Have you not heart? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and grow weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.'

He can make the dry, parched ground of my soul to become a pool, and my thirsty, barren heart as springs of water. Yes, He can make this habitation of dragons, this heart, which is so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations, to be a place of bounty and fruitfulness unto Himself!

Next on my reading list? I'm thinking The Glory of Christ. Or perhaps I'll give another chance to The Death of Death.


Monday, March 06, 2006

 

Political Commentary - Abortion

I'm not much for politics or commenting on political things. But given the South Dakota bill that was signed into law today, I have a few words to say. Finally!! I'm honestly shocked that the majority of the State House of Representatives and the Governor of any given US state could manage to coordinate well enough to pull something like this off. Major kudos to Governor Mike Rounds for having 1) the guts and 2) the moral fiber to sign that bill. Our mayor wouldn't even lift a finger to allow other people to fight the ACLU when they demanded that the city remove the 10 Commandments monument in front of the courthouse. And here a whole state government (well, at least the majority of the important people in it) have worked together to take that first step toward overturning America's worst-court-decision-ever. What's at stake in this isn't just the morality of our nation. It's not a matter of Republicans vs. Democrats or even Christians vs. Popular Culture -- this is a matter of stopping the government-sanctioned murder of unborn children on a massive scale. There's a member of my congregation who supports pro-abortion laws because his daughter was raped and through that experience he came to believe that abortion is acceptable in some cases. But despite the horror that some women go through, one wrong cannot be righted by another wrong. Rape cannot be amended by murder. And the vast majority of abortions that take place in the US have nothing to do with these "extreme circumstance" cases that are played up so strongly in the pro-abortion arguments. Most abortions are murder-for-convenience-sake. I know full well that political action cannot save this world. It cannot rescue a single person from the pit of Hell -- only Christ can save from sin. But I cannot help but delight to see that there are still some people in places of power in this nation who are concerned about our country's near-wholesale slip into gross immorality. All I can say is that I hope they win. I hope Roe vs. Wade goes down in the history books as what it is -- the government-sanctioned, candy-coated, American holocaust -- the biggest judicial mistake in the history of our nation.

The story - South Dakota Abortion Ban

I intended this to be a short post, but I was so excited about the news today. What I meant to say was this: I got a temp job working for an insurance agency. I'm tired. I'm bone-tired. And I doubt I'll be much up to the old blogging thing this week. I tried to catch up on PyroManiacs tonight and didn't make it very far (which is disappointing, because there are so many good on-going discussions there) due to the fact that my eyes kept going blurry and I kept dozing off. I don't know how long the temp job will last. Probably another couple of weeks. I'm supposed to be in the office alone Wednesday through Friday and if I finish up the work Wade leaves me to do then I might catch up on some of my blog reading. I don't know though, would PyroManiacs be considered "work appropriate"? I should probably just ask outright and then I won't have to wonder and/or feel guilty. It's more likely that I'll have to spend that time continuing my sermon preparation, however. I do enjoy blogging (and reading other people's blogs) an awful lot, but it sure is a lot of work! And terribly confusing at times as well. Maybe I'm not cut out for this sort of thing.

Yawn. I'm exhausted. More on spiritual topics next time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

 

The Long & Winding Road -- What's a Preacher To Do?

I'm at a crossroads and I don't know which way to turn. I trust God to lead me in the right way, but I also believe in making informed and well-thought-out decisions. I am concerned about my spiritual life, my wife's spiritual life, the future of my ministry (if there will be one), the desire to raise children, and the desire to be out of debt.

I've been the minister at a wholly Arminian church (Christian Church / Church of Christ) for just over 2 years now. The church is over an hour from where I live and the wages I recieve are insufficient to support a household. Outward doctrinal conflicts have been few because I've kept my nose more-or-less out of the pet doctrines held by this congregation. I often feel like a well run dry. I strive to set before my congregation Christ crucified and the gospel of salvation by the grace of God in Christ alone. But I more often feel frustrated and discouraged -- drained of all zeal and hope of seeing any real change -- by the time I get back home each Sunday. To worsen the matter, my wife (who has yet to be born again) has stopped coming with me to the services at this church out of frustration and is now neither reading the Word or hearing it preached. We both want to start a family, but she's unwilling to try in earnest to have a child until we are more financially secure (our first child ended in a miscarriage -- the fear of which has delayed this consideration until now). She has an over-abundance of medical problems for a woman her age and we expect a difficult pregnancy. We cannot, therefore, rely upon her job as a source of income. So I am left with only a few options, all of which have serious draw-backs. This is my attempt to put these options into writing so that I might more objectively weigh each scenario.

Options Considered
1. Quit my preaching position at the Chrisitan Church, take a full-time secular job and attend Mount of Olives Baptist Church with my wife as a member only.
2. Option #1 and also pursue future ordination in the Baptist General Conference.
3. Find a steady part-time secular position to supplement my income from the Christian Church and continue with my preaching position there until they throw me out.
4. Try to gain admittance to The Master's Seminary, pull up roots and move to California to study for the ministry under teachers whose doctrinal convictions I share while holding down a part-time job to held defer the costs of my schooling.
5. Do nothing.

Pros & Cons
1. Pro: Can attend church with my wife again, she gets exposure to the gospel, sit under biblical preaching, become involved with an active and encouraging congregation, allows time and means to start a family. Con: No opportunity to preach, little opportunity to continue my studies, no solid assurance that Leah will continue to attend with me long-term, no assurance of being able to have a child.
2. Pro: Same as #1 plus a vague intent to return to ministry at some future point. Con: Same as #1 plus the potential disappointment of rejection by the BGC.
3. Pro: Able to continue preaching, allows time and means to start a family. Con: Leah will not attend, she will not be exposed to the gospel, I will continue to feel drained and depressed, no opportunity to transfer my ordination to a group I am more theologically aligned with.
4. Pro: Provides a clear plan for the future, able to sit under strong teaching, continue my studies under compulsion with enough time to do so adequately, offers near certainty of acceptance with Baptist denomination. Con: Removes us from family and friends, financial obligations would be overwhelming, both Leah and I would be required to find new jobs that suited our schedules and would meet our bills, allows no time (and definitely no means) to start a family, overall questionable whether I should be pursuing ministry with an unconverted (though supportive) wife.
5. Pro: No change = no risk. Con: Continue in discouragement in ministry and relational-tension with Leah. No change = no improvement.

So if anyone else reads this. Based on the information given here -- What would you do? And why? My choice would be #4 because I know the value of the education I would recieve and I like the definiteness of the outcome with regard to my ministry. But taking Leah into consideration I am more inclined to actually pursue #1 or #2.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

 

A Letter on an Unconverted Ministry

The following is a copy of a letter sent to a former University professor of mine* addressing my concerns about unconverted men entering the ministry. I ran across a copy of the letter today and was stirred again by those same concerns that prompted its writing.

Dear Dr. [omitted],

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the precious Lamb of God. (How wonderful it is to write these words in truth and not merely in pretence and for show!) You may remember me. My name is [omitted]. I was a student at Harding from 1999 to 2003 and you were my professor for three classes: New Testament Introduction, The Gospel of John (Greek), and Christian Ministry. I wrote to you some 2 years ago now thanking you for steering me in the right direction with regard to my ministry and especially concerning my personal relationship with God. You may not remember me after all this time (I was not an extraordinary student and was rather shy) but in your response to my first correspondence 2 years ago you said I could write any time... so I am.

I'm writing with two purposes: to update you on my spiritual growth and to address a subject which has been laid more and more heavily (and clearly) upon my heart and mind as I've grown in both knowledge and wisdom. I am increasingly convinced that the a very great number of those who fill the pulpits of our churches and study to enter the ministry have no true experiential faith in Jesus Christ. By this I mean, to be blunt, that they are unconverted, unsaved and self-deceived. But on a practical level I mean that they have not been challenged with regard to their decision to enter the ministry and that the "faith" they profess is no more and no less than assent to a set of historical or doctrinal facts about which they have no heart-conviction and experimental knowledge. Certainly you could write me off as someone who's been reading too many glossy-covered pseudo-Christian books (I haven't), but I hope you will hear me out concerning this. It is something that comes not only from my understanding of God's word, but also from my own experience and therefore from the very depths of my heart.

I made the decision to become a minister through a weighing out of the pros and cons as well as by the impressions of my heart. It was not arbitrary. My father is a minister and I have always sought to be a faithful Christian. If anything can be said of my younger years, I was eminently religious. When you challenged us in the first days of Christian Ministry, saying "If you can do anything else except be a minister, do that thing instead," I took it very seriously and upon a close self-examination I determined that I could not be happy doing any other work than that of a preacher. I thought myself a very proper and sound Christian person and honestly felt that no one could be better suited to the ministry than me. But I was deceived. Having no experience of the grace of God, nor any abiding faith, upon entering into my ministerial training I was quickly led astray by a heretic among the ranks of the university--a waterless spring who cleverly taught foul doctrines and perverted the scripture at every turn. After 3 years I was left with the torn and shredded tatters of a useless Bible and a feeling of pride and arrogance that Satan himself would find it difficult to rival. And neither was I the only student left in this estate. Though many were led astray by many other means, this man was the chief source of deception among those studying for the work of ministry. I was confirmed in my pride and the superiority of my non-God and my non-Bible and my all-but-absent-Christ by my peers who were likewise deceived. Your words spoken in the first weeks of the Christian Ministry course with regard to spiritual warfare (specifically when you quoted Ephesians 6:11-12, which spoke of Satan as if he were a real being) proved the beginning of the unravelling of this terrible web of lies and so-called wisdom. It has taken 2 years of intense study, prayer and self-examination to rid my heart and mind of the last bastions of the terrible heresies that I was led into during my time at Harding. I believe that at this point the whole of the foul system of doctrine taught by this wolf in sheep's clothing has been undone within me, but the harm has been inconceivable. But the point of what I want to illustrate is not that some teach falsely, but that I was unprepared for entering into the ministry--not merely because my doctrines had been corrupted, but because I knew nothing of Jesus Christ and Him crucified! I fell victim to false teaching because I had not myself been converted. And yet no one questioned the reality of my faith or the soundness of my doctrine. After graduation I entered into a period of extreme uncertainty and fear with regard to my life before God. I sought, often many hours on my face in prayer, to reconcile to Him through confession of sin, severity to my body, and pleading vainly (and repetitively) for some supernatural blessing to suddenly fall upon me as it did on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. I sought salvation, but found it not. And yet it was during this period that I first began to preach. I was confident that I would be able to enlighten those to whom I spoke, but I found that I served more to confuse and frustrate--both them and myself--than to illuminate and convert. I was teaching a mixture of "Holiness doctrine" (a precursor to the Pentecostals, though I didn't know that at the time) and liberalism (the remnants of the false teaching I fell victim to at Harding). It would not be until 5 months after the start of my official ministry that I myself would come to faith in Christ! And yet what a wonderful change has taken place since that time! How different, how precious, the doctrines of scripture and the person of Jesus Christ now appear to me. How glorious they have all become, even to the point of elation! That I, even I, could become a child of God. And yet those I meet do not tell the same story. They speak of Christ instead with a dryness and a lack of familiarity that once I would have found admirable, but now I find detestable.

How many there are whom I have met whose Christianity is nothing more than a set of facts! A religion that could be easily organized into a spreadsheet or systematized in a book! Have we fallen this far, that we who began with the noble goal of calling out all who are truly faithful and obedient lovers of Jesus Christ, have now come to the point where we place men in the pulpit whom God rightly describes as those who "profess to know God, but deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work" (Titus 1:16)? I do not say that all our ministers are in this state--by no means. But I do say that TOO MANY of them are and that we have done far too little to prevent it. The sheep are being shepherded by the wolf and taught by the Devil. There is great fear within my heart and increasing sorrow as I speak to more and more "preachers" and "ministers" and "evangelists" who claim the name of Christ and yet speak of Him so dryly and dispute doctrines pertaining to salvation with no show of emotion except a hot head when someone disagrees with them. Many, it would seem, are concerned only to have a man who teaches the doctrine of the church. I say that doctrine apart from love for Christ is dead just as much as faith without works is dead. How will we persuade men if we ourselves are not persuaded? And yet this is the state of many. I wish it were not so. Yet it was even my state at the time of my graduation--severed from Christ and without hope in the world. I ought not to have been allowed to preach, and yet the gift of discernment is so much neglected in our day that my ministry was received with gladness in a place where previously only laymen taught. Yet I would rather see godly laymen, ignorant lovers of Jesus Christ, teaching and preaching than godless preachers who declare blasphemies from the pulpits of our churches both through their doctrines and through their lives. May God see fit to bless us with a restoration of true, heart-felt Christianity in the days to come.

I write to you because I know you to be a true servant of Jesus Christ and a man who has evidently known this experiential knowledge, this heart-faith in Jesus Christ, that I set forth so urgently. I write to you because you are the man of God who once helped me, and I hope that you will be able to help others. Urge your students to examine themselves as to the state of their souls. Exhortation to spiritual duties is all good and well in its proper place, but the first great duty of every man is to believe savingly on the Lord Jesus Christ. And until that has been done--until the soul has come into a real, vital, experiential knowledge of the love of Christ and the grace of God--then no amount of prayer nor baptisms without end will avail anything. And this is especially critical as regards those who will fill our pulpits in the generation which is now being raised up. How can a man teach that which he himself does not know? How much less can he PREACH what he has not known? I was sent out as a blind man to lead the blind. All thanks and glory to my gracious Lord that He saw fit to snatch me from the fire and to reveal His grace to me so that I might not run this race in vain! And yet how my heart agonizes over those who were likewise deceived--who may not have been touched by providence in the same gracious manner as I have been. Who will warn them? Who will challenge them? Who will tell them that "unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God?" I make no claim that this will solve the problem of an unconverted ministry--some will hear and harden their hearts against their need and still assume a ministerial role--but I trust it can do no harm to the souls of any.

I close with a very worthy exhortation from Charles Spurgeon's "Lectures to my Students," which I read with confusion near the beginning of my ministry and now find to be very much in accord with my own sentiments:

"That a teacher of the gospel should first be a partaker of it is a simple truth, but at the same time a rule of the most weighty importance. We are not among those who accept the apostolical succession of young men simply because they assume it; if their college experience has been rather vivacious than spiritual, if their honors have been connected rather with athletic exercises than with labors for Christ, we demand evidence of another kind than they are able to present to us. No amount of fees paid to learned doctors, and no amount of classes received in return, appear to us to be evidences of a call from above. True and genuine piety is necessary as the first indispensable requisite; whatever 'call' a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to the ministry."

The peace of God go with you, man of God.
In Christ alone,
[omitted]

* - The school I attended is very strongly Arminian and holds also to baptismal regeneration. I recall little if any talk of the "new birth" or any salvation experience outside of the acts of decision-making and "baptism for the forgiveness of sins" during my 4 years there.

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