Friday, July 12, 2019

Gospel Gold from John Newton on "The Advantages of Indwelling Sin"

Why does God allow such deep and prolonged struggle with sin throughout our lives? What are the advantages to allowing so much sin to remain in his children?

John Newton, the former slave trader, who was converted and became a pastor (and author of the famous hymn, "Amazing Grace"), thought long and hard on these questions. He penned a letter on the advantages (!) of indwelling sin. It's full of the savor of God's wisdom and the sweetness of his grace. Here's an extended excerpt (emphasis mine). This is gold, brothers and sisters. Gospel gold.
If the evils we feel were not capable of being over-ruled for good, he would not permit them to remain in us. ...
The gracious purposes to which the Lord makes the sense and feeling of our depravity subservient, are manifold. Hereby his own power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love, are more signally displayed: his power, in maintaining his own work in the midst of so much opposition, like a spark burning in the water...; his wisdom, in defeating and controlling all the devices which Satan...
... The unchangeableness of the Lord's love, and the riches of his mercy, are likewise more illustrated by the multiplied pardons he bestows upon his people, than if they needed no forgiveness at all.
Hereby the Lord Jesus is more endeared to the soul; all boasting is effectually excluded, and the glory of a full free salvation is ascribed to him alone. If a mariner is surprised by a storm, and after one night spent in jeopardy, is presently brought safe into port; though he may rejoice in his deliverance, it will not affect him so sensibly, as if, after being tempest-tossed for a long season, and experiencing a great number and variety of hair-breadth escapes, he at last gains the desired haven. ...
But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, wilfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ, Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much, because much has been forgiven them. They dare not, they will not ascribe anything to themselves, but are glad to acknowledge, that they must have perished (if possible) a thousand times over, if Jesus had not been their Saviour, their shepherd, and their shield.
... In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence, have been occasioned by the mortifying proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of [Him], if they had not known so much of themselves.
Further, a spirit of humiliation, which is both…the strength and beauty of our profession, is greatly promoted by our feeling, as well as reading, that when we would do good, evil is present with us. A broken and contrite spirit is pleasing to the Lord who has promised to dwell with those who have it; and experience shows, that the exercise of all our graces is in proportion to the humbling sense we have of the depravity of our nature.
But that we are so totally depraved, is a truth which no one ever truly learned by being only told it. ...experience is the Lord's school, and they who are taught by him usually learn, that they have no wisdom by the mistakes they make, and that they have no strength by the slips and falls they meet with.
... Thus by degrees they are weaned from leaning to any supposed wisdom, power, or goodness in themselves; they feel the truth of our Lord's words, "Without me [you] can do nothing;"...
Whoever is truly humbled will not be easily angry, ...will be compassionate and tender to the infirmities of his fellow-sinners, knowing, that if there be a difference, it is grace that has made it, and that he has the seeds of every evil in his own heart; and, under all trials and afflictions, he will look to the hand of the Lord, and lay his mouth in the dust, acknowledging that he suffers much less than his iniquities have deserved. 
These are some of the advantages and good fruits which the Lord enables us to obtain from that bitter root, indwelling sin.

You can go and read the full letter HERE.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Waking Up to Male Privilege

I went on a walk last night to pray. It was around midnight. It was in a pretty "safe" neighborhood. I was preparing to preach on Genesis 34 the next morning. It's the heartrending story of the rape of Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob.

At some point in that walk, it struck me that I wasn't worried (even though there a few killer dogs I prefer to avoid). That lack of fear is a luxury I usually take for granted.

That's not a luxury most women enjoy. My wife was recently on a walk at night in that same neighborhood. At one point she noticed a vehicle that seemed to be following her (parking, then moving). She "tested" that theory and got a little more concerned. She wasn't far from home, so she crossed the street and ducked behind our van in our driveway. I saw her through the window, so I came out to find out what was going on. After hearing what had happened, she described the vehicle and we realized it was right across the street, parked near the public mailbox.

My adrenaline was pumping and I started walking toward the vehicle, wondering what to do and/or say. I yelled across the street at the guy (his window was down), and after he gave me a lame answer to my questions, he drove away.

I take the safety of solitary late-night walks (or runs) for granted. Women don't.

Genesis 34 starts out like this:
1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.
It's likely that "going out to see the women of the land" carries negative connotations. It wasn't wise for Dinah to do this alone. Canaan was a dangerous place for young women. And she was most likely only 15 or 16 years old. But the text says nothing about her to chide or blame. She is a victim of Shechem's unbridled lust. This is rape. This is sexual assault. He saw her. He seized her. He forced himself on her, humiliating and degrading her.

If you wonder what the Bible, what God, thinks of this, we get the clear judgment in verse 7:
The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing must not be done.
In Hebrew narrative, causal explanations are rare. When they are given, they are the ancient near eastern equivalent of bold and underline emphasis. What Shechem did was an outrageous thing. Outrage is the righteous response. The brothers were right to be indignant and very angry. Such a thing must not be done!

If you believe the Bible, sexual assault is NOT the fault of the victim. NO ONE should lay any blame at her feet, and I don't care "how she was dressed."

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Paul Miller's Story

I was introduced to Paul Miller through his excellent book on prayer entitled, A Praying Life. He has a new book out titled, The J Curve: Dying and Rising With Jesus in Everyday Life. I look forward to reading it. In the promotional email I received, this video was included. It's beautiful and instructive.


Paul Miller's Story from Crossway on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Relationship Between Sin and Suffering

Job's "friends" have gotten quite a bit of bad press over the last few thousand years. And for good reason. As the saying goes, "with friends like that, who needs enemies?" Their karma-like understanding of sin and suffering is far too simplistic for this world that God rules and is redeeming. 

So what does the Bible say about the relationship between sin and suffering? I offer the following as a basic outline of the Bible's contours on the subject:

1) All suffering is tied to Sin.
2) Suffering is not always a result of specific sin/s.
3) Suffering is sometimes a result of specific sin/s.
4) You are not necessarily right with God because you are circumstantially prosperous.
5) You are not necessarily under condemnation before God because you are suffering.


1) All suffering is tied to Sin.

Death entered on account of Original Sin. Cancer, disease, dangerous bacteria, defects and deformity, deadly natural disasters, accidents, diabetes, viruses, and violence are all present on planet earth as a result of The Fall.

Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

Genesis 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

2) Suffering is not always a result of specific sin/s.

Job’s “friends” were dead wrong.

Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. … 8 And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" 9 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." 12 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand."

Job 2:3 And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason." 4 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face." 6 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life."

Jesus’ disciples needed to be cured of this same theological myopia.

John 9:1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Job’s friends were dead wrong, and the adoption of their theological system has done untold damage to sufferers. We dare not repeat their error, but we must also guard against over-correction. If we don’t, we will find ourselves in the ditch of theological error on the opposite side of the road. Rightly avoiding the errors of Job’s friends, our fear of “guilt by association” can lead us to deny that suffering is ever tied to specific sin/s. In so doing, we end up an accomplice to our natural impulses to deny and justify and blame shift our sin. We can’t forget our proclivity to keep our sin “safe” under cover of darkness (see John 3:19).

It is true that suffering is not always tied to specific sin/s.
And it is equally true that…

3) Suffering is sometimes a result of specific sin/s.

Psalm 32:1 A Maskil of David. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

John 5:5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" … 8 Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. … 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you."

Acts 5:1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God." 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. …
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much." 9 But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. …

1 Corinthians 11:27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

You can see how important it is to embrace all three of these points. There are massive soul-care implications for each one. And, there are massive dangers to denying or minimizing any one of them. Examples of the dangers could be multiplied ad nauseum. Implications for soul-care should be considered with comprehensive carefulness, but for now, two big-picture implications are worth noting.

4) You are not necessarily right with God because you are well and circumstantially prosperous.

Psalm 73:1 A Psalm of Asaph. Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. 5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

Luke 13:1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Health and prosperity are not necessarily signs of God’s favor. Those who suffer more than you are not necessarily less favored by God than you. And, the corollary is also true.

5) You are not necessarily under condemnation before God because you are suffering.

Even a cursory glance at the life of Job, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul will establish this point.

Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, …


2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.



It may also be helpful to note that the Bible identifies and distinguishes (at least) the following three categories:  

1) suffering for unrighteousness/wrongdoing – e.g. 1 Pet 2:20; 4:15
2) innocent suffering (includes victimization) – e.g. 2 Sam 13:1-20; John 9:1-3
3) suffering for righteousness sake – e.g. Matt 5:10-12; 1 Pet 2:19; 3:14; 4:16

Friday, March 1, 2019

"Yesterday" and, What if You Woke Up Tomorrow...

...and you were the only person on earth that knew Jesus?

Australian pastor Stephen Mcapline offers a good answer, inspired by the trailer to the forthcoming movie "Yesterday."

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Most Encouraging Sermon I Heard Last Year

Ray Ortlund, Jr. preached at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville this past Sunday. We were visiting my family in the area, so we were able to attend. Ray preached from Romans 8:31-39. It had to be the most encouraging sermon I heard in 2018. I encourage you to give it a listen.

Here are a few soundbites:
God is not tired of you. He is not wishing he hadn't gotten involved. When he sees you coming, he is not looking out his peripheral vision for an exit strategy. He loves high maintenance sinners.
He promises to love out of you everything resistant to his love, and love into you everything receptive of his love.
He himself, at the cross, already removed every reason why he shouldn't love you.
If God gave us his most sacred gift at the cross, his Son (Romans 8:32), is he going to nickle and dime us now? 

And a couple of encouraging quotes he used:

Martin Luther,
When the devil accuses us and says, ‘You are a sinner and therefore damned,’ we should answer, ‘Because you say I am a sinner, I will be righteous and saved.’ ‘No,’ says the devil, ‘you will be damned.’ And I reply, ‘No, for I fly to Christ, who gave himself for my sins. Satan, you will not prevail against me when you try to terrify me by setting forth the greatness of my sins and try to bring me into heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt and blasphemy against God. On the contrary, when you say I am a sinner, you give me armor and weapons against yourself, so that with your own sword I may cut your throat and tread you under my feet, for Christ died for sinners. . . . As often as you object that I am a sinner, so often you remind me of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer, on whose shoulders, and not on mine, lie all my sins. So when you say I am a sinner, you do not terrify me but comfort me immeasurably.'
John Owen,
A man may love another as his own soul, yet perhaps that love of his cannot help him. He may thereby pity him in prison, but not relieve him; bemoan him in misery, but not help him; suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. … But now the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effectual and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills unto his beloved. He loves life, grace, and holiness into us; he loves us also into covenant, loves us into heaven. 
 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Fighter Verses for 2019

Would you like 'rootedness', 'fruitfulness', 'durability', and 'flourishing' to characterize you in 2019?

Who wouldn't?

Well, that's exactly what's promised to believers who delight in God's Word and meditate on it day and night.

Psalm 1:1-3
Blessed is the man who[se]...delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
What better way to meditate regularly on God's Word, and thus experience these promises, than by memorizing scripture? Life-giving, fruit-producing meditation is the point of memorizing. Many of us have experienced the grace of this discipline, and yet it is often the most neglected. So, let's help each other out...

We are encouraging the Bethel church family to commit to the Fighter Verses program for 2019. Will you join us?

Fighter Verses was developed by Desiring God and is available for iPhone (or iPad) or Android devices. There is a one-time cost of $2.99, but what you receive is worth way more than the cost of a cup or two of coffee. You'll have full access to 5 years worth of verses, and a TON of other helpful resources built right in. For instance, every verse has been put to song, so you can hear your verse sung. There's also a blog with devotional thoughts that go along with each week's verse(s).

The app looks like this (note the 'F' for 'Fighter Verses' emblazoned like a cross on the shield):

Why not commit as a Community Group, encouraging each other to stick with it when you start to get lazy and let it slide? Text each other with ways the verse of the week has encouraged you.

If you don't have a smart phone, you can still use the program. You can buy a flashcard pack HERE, or you can go to fighterverses.com and see the verses there. We will also be printing the verses in the bulletin each week, and will be using each week verse(s) for our devotional at prayer meeting each week.

"Blessed is the man or woman whose delight is in the law of the LORD...[who] meditates day and night...." Let's believe this is where blessing will be found in 2019, and let's go get it.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Honest Answers: "How Did We Get the Biblical Canon?"

"Honest Answers" is a very helpful series of videos produced by Southern Seminary. Here's an excellent one by Dr. Robert Plummer entitled, "How Did We Get the Biblical Canon?"


Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Beautiful "Scum of the Earth"

Voice of the Martyrs produces a video each year for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. These videos provide a window into the real life suffering of our brothers and sisters around the globe. This year, they tell the story of life for Christians in Pakistan. Take five minutes and view the video HERE. It is a heartbreaking, yet beautiful picture of the power of the gospel.

These Pakistani Christians are walking in the footsteps of Jesus (Philippians 2:7-8) and the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 4:8-16). They may be treated like second-class citizens in their country, but there is no second class in the kingdom of God. Their citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and they are the meek who will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). And one day, when Jesus returns, the great reversal will take place, and "many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Matthew 19:30). Then the world will know that Pakistan's trash is actually God's treasure. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Testimony of Tragedy and Grace in Rome

For those of you who attended our missions conference back in April, you got to know Leonardo De Chirico and the ministry of his church (Brecchia de Roma) in Rome.

Laurie sent me this powerful video testimony of Reid and Kyra Karr, missionaries who served together with Leonardo for six years. While on furlough back in the States, shortly before their intended return to Rome, Kyra was tragically killed in a car accident. 

After Kyra's death, Reid returned to Rome and continues to serve Christ there. Watch this powerful testimony to the mighty sufficiency of God's grace: