Thorough Christianity

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Okay, things are spiraling out of control… I am currently in various stages of reading “The Holy Bible” (God), “Holiness” (J.C. Ryle), “Knowing God” (J.I. Packer), “Lectures to My Students” (Spurgeon), “Sacred Marriage” (Gary Thomas), “The Reformed Pastor” (Baxter), “Practical Religion” (J.C. Ryle), and a biography of Patrick Henry titled “Lion of Liberty” (Unger) just for fun. And I start “The Gospel’s Power & Message” (Washer) next week. I have never, ever been in such a state. HOWEVER – I must admit that the way I am going about it is making it a little more manageable. Five of these are being read aloud with other people, meaning that we meet and actually do the reading together – NO HOMEWORK (huzzah!).

Here is the latest gem from Chapter 1, “Self-Inquiry”, of J.C. Ryle’s “Practical Religion”:

“Is any reader of this paper a professing believer in Christ, but a believer without much joy and peace and comfort? Take advice this day. Search your own heart, and see whether the fault be not entirely your own. Very likely you are sitting at ease, content with a little faith, and a little repentance, a little grace and a little sanctification, and unconsciously shrinking back from extremes. You will never be a very happy Christian at this rate, if you live to the age of Methuselah. Change your plan, if you love life and would see good days, without delay. Come out boldly, and act decidedly. Be thorough, thorough, very thorough in your Christianity, and set your face fully towards the sun. Lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset you. Strive to get nearer to Christ, to abide in Him, to cleave to Him, and to sit at His feet like Mary, and drink full draughts out of the fountain of life.”

We have been invited to plunge into the extremes of wholeheartedly loving God, and all the happiness that accompanies those extremes. Has it been a while since you assessed your entanglements with the world and what they are costing you? It has been a while for me, and I am very thankful for the reminder.

The Remedial System of the Gospel

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

I am almost finished re-reading J.C. Ryle’s “Holiness”, and I came across this gem in Chapter 18, titled “Unsearchable Riches”, regarding whether or not a person truly knows Jesus Christ:

“After all, this is the question of questions! Pardon, peace, rest of conscience, hope in death, Heaven itself – all hinge upon our answer. To know Christ is life eternal. To be without Christ – is to be without God. ‘He who has the Son has life – and he who has not the Son of God has not life.’ (1 John 5:12). The friends of purely secular education, the enthusiastic advocates of reform and progress, the worshipers of reason and intellect and mind and science, may say what they please, and do all they can to mend the world. But they will find their labor is in vain if they do not make allowance for the Fall of man, if there is no place for Christ in their schemes. There is a sore disease at the heart of mankind, which will baffle all their efforts and defeat all their plans, and that disease is sin. Oh, that people would only see and recognize the corruption of human nature, and the uselessness of all efforts to improve man which are not based on the remedial system of the gospel! Yes, the plague of sin is in the word, and no waters will ever heal that plague except those which flow from the fountain for all sin – a crucified Christ.”

The point being made is obvious: the gospel is remedial, meaning that it – and only it – cures mankind’s real problem. All other attempts amount to treating cancer with band-aids (imagine the futility!). There is no going forward without first going back and dealing with the source of our problems – we have waged a war against a holy God and our many and great sins must be cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

And that, friends, is why a purely social gospel is much worse than just a waste – it sustains people in their rebellion against God while only temporarily alleviating the pain and hardship that should drive them to Christ for real relief.

The saving gospel is a preached gospel that illuminates the sinfulness of sin and points to the only remedy – the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what must be at the absolute leading edge, the absolute forefront of all of our efforts to address the problems of this world, whether poverty or abortion or any other source of pain and hardship.

Stay Tuned for Malawi Updates

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

I hope to post frequent updates from Malawi in the coming days. We depart on Thursday, August 28, and arrive home, if the Lord wills, on Friday, September 12. I plan to add updates here at the top of the post, pushing the older updates further down.

- This is our second trip to Malawi. The first was two years ago, in August 2012. As a review, this was the preview for that trip, and this was the follow-up.

Friday, September 12

After a brief stop in Dakar, Senegal and a plane change in Washington D.C., we arrived in Raleigh at 9:30 a.m. – right on time and WITH ALL OUR LUGGAGE, which is no small thing! It was a great trip, and it’s great to be home!

Thursday, September 11

We toured Soweto (the shortened version of “South West Township”), the township of Johannesburg where the movement to topple Apartheid developed and finally triumphed. In the late afternoon, we boarded our flight and began the eighteen hour journey home.

Wednesday, September 10

We said goodbye to our dear friends and flew out of Blantyre, arriving in Johannesburg mid afternoon. We stayed with Tim Cantrell, pastor of Antioch Bible Church, and Scott and I had the privilege of preaching at the church in the evening.

Tuesday, September 9

Our last full day in Blantyre was largely spent with twenty young men from Antioch Baptist Church. We met in Mala’so living room and Mike, Victor, Scott and I all gave messages about different aspects of studying Scripture. These are hungry young men and it has been a real joy to be with them and to teach them.

In the afternoon Marvin Jere drove us to Mount Mulanje, the third highest mountain in Africa. On the way, we passed through miles and miles of tea fields (yes, drinking tea). Come to think of it, they also grow a lot of sugar cane… Hmmm – they have all the key ingredients to becoming Southern, but I digress… Anyway, tea comes from short shrubs that would be about halfway to your knee if you were standing in the field. It is a beautiful green and makes for a breathtaking landscape.

The day ended with “The Last Supper”: dinner at Mala’s house with a few of our closest friends from Blantyre.

Monday, September 8

Today was the pastors’ conference at EBCOM (the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi). Nineteen pastors attended. After the first two sessions, Scott went “off script” and taught an extemporaneous session on Deuteronomy 6, applying it both to pastors and their families, and also to the pastor’s duty to teach these things to the fathers of their church and require their obedience.

At lunch, we decided to abandon the original schedule in favor of teaching on and applying the sufficiency of Scripture. I taught first, establishing the doctrine from 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and Mark 7:1-13, and then applying it to three controversial areas of Malawian culture: the education of children, marriages where the husband lives and works in one location with the wife in another, and women pastors (there were four in the room). Scott followed up with a message clarifying the gospel and pressing the pastor’s duty to identify, help, and confront those who are likely unbelievers in the congregation.

Needless to say, our discussions afterwards were quite lively, though thankfully not openly contentious.

Sunday, September 7

Scott and I taught on different aspects of the fear of the LORD at Antioch Baptist Church, while Mike and Victor both went to preach at other local churches.

A Women’ Conference was held in the afternoon, with Deborah Brown teaching the two sessions. This was attended by the women of Antioch and also students from several of the local universities.

In the evening, Mala took us to Catholic University, where the men went to a classroom to meet with the young men, while Deborah and Mada (Masada and Mada married in April) met with the young women. We both led discussions on the sufficiency of Scripture. The men’s discussion was great, but I suspect not quite as lively as the ladies’ discussion. Deborah has already received an email from one of the young ladies saying that the group has been continuing to discuss these things and to search the Scriptures, and they are beginning to realize these things are true, even though the implications are daunting. We should be praying that the Lord would help these women not to be afraid to obey anything that they find in Scripture.

Saturday, September 6

The Gospel Conference was well attended with about seventy five attendees, mostly from the local universities, listening very attentively to a lot of teaching – six sessions in all. We labored to press home the true biblical gospel, insisting that being born again always results in changed thinking and a changed life. We also attacked the false gospels of easy beleivism and the prosperity gospel, both of which are pervasive here in Malawi.

Tuesday, September 2 – Wednesday,  September 5

I felt like the balance of the “Your Marriage Matters” was very valuable with strong messages from each of the speakers (Scott Brown, Mike Davenport, Victor Maxson and myself). There was a very wide range of ages in attendance, from the many college singles to some older men from a local Presbyterian Church who knew us from two years ago. Marvin Jere’s parents also joined us for a couple of the sessions.

On Friday, between the afternoon and evening sessions, we spread out two-by-two on the campus of Blantyre University for evangelism. Like two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised at the students’ overall willingness to engage in meaningful discussions.

Monday, September 1

We traveled safely from Lilongwe to Blantyre, where we will remain for the rest of our stay. The trip was just as I remembered it – harrowing, since people (and livestock) walk and ride bikes (not the livestock) right next to speeding traffic. Oh, and passing in the face of oncoming traffic is part of the deal. I’m not sure why…

Anyway, I’m comfortably settled at the home of Mala and Rachel.

The 5-day marriage conference began at noon, with a single session over the lunch hour and then two sessions in the evening. The venue is in downtown Blantyre, so that many of those working there can attend over lunch and then immediately after work. That will continue to be the schedule through Friday.

Sunday, August 31

We had a wonderful start to the Lord’s Day at Reformation Fellowship, which is the church the Maxsons are planting in Lilongwe. I taught on “What Is a Biblical Christian?”, primarily from John 3, and then Scott preached on “What Is a Biblical Church?” Along with our team and the Maxsons, there were about ten Malawians from the community. It is a small church plant with a sweet spirit of fellowship in Christ.

Saturday, August 30

This afternoon Scott and I spoke at the “Your Marriage Matters” seminar sponsored by Frank Maxson and the church here. There were something like 25-30 people who attended from around the community, and it was a very attentive and engaged group. It is a great blessing to be able to preach the gospel and its connection to marriage and family life.

Thursday/Friday, August 28/29

We departed Raleigh at 6:00 a.m., flew to New York, and then 8,000 miles and 15 hours later we arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa. We made the flight to Lilongwe, Malawi with five minutes to spare (literally), and arrived right on time – with all our luggage. ‘Twas a miracle! Most of the flight to Africa was at an altitude of about 40,000 feet, with a average outside temperature of -50F (yes, that is not a typo – it is really, really cold up there!). I had plenty of time to pray for everyone in the church by name. If you attend Sovereign Redeemer, you were the recipient of high-altitude prayer.

 

 

Loving Jesus Christ

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Here is another gem from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, Chapter 15, “Do You Love Me?” (based on John 21:16).

“…if you love Christ, never be ashamed to let others see it and know it. Speak for Him. Witness for Him. Live for Him. Work for Him. If He has loved you and washed you from your sins in His own blood – you never need shrink from letting others know that you feel it, and love Him in return.

‘Man,’ said a thoughtless, ungodly English traveler, to a North American Indian convert, ‘Man, what is the reason that you make so much of Christ, and talk so much about Him? What has this Christ done for you, that you should make so much ado about him?’

The converted Indian did not answer him in words. He gathered together some dry leaves and moss and made a ring with them on the ground. He picked up a live worm and put it in the middle of the ring. He struck a light and set the moss and leaves on fire. The flame soon rose, and the heat scorched the worm. It writhed in agony, and after trying in vain to escape on every side, curled itself up in the middle, as if about to die in despair. At that moment the Indian reached forth his hand, took up the worm gently and placed it on his bosom.

‘Sir,’ he said to the Englishman, ‘do you see that worm? I was that perishing creature. I was dying in my sins, hopeless, helpless and on the brink of eternal fire. It was Jesus Christ who put forth the arm of His power. It was Jesus Christ who delivered me with the hand of His grace, and plucked me from everlasting burnings. It was Jesus Christ who placed me, a poor sinful worm, near the heart of His love. Stranger, that is the reason why I talk of Jesus Christ, and make much of Him. I am not ashamed of it, because I love Him.’

If we know anything of love to Christ, may we have the mind of this North American Indian! May we never think that we can…

love Christ to well,

live to Him to thoroughly,

confess Him too boldly,

lay ourselves out for Him too heartily!

Of all the things that will surprise us in the resurrection morning, this I believe will surprise us most: that we did not love Christ more before we died!”

Saturday Chores: Making Hope a Laughing Matter

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Most Saturdays for the past few months, a young couple has joined us for a few minutes outside the Jones Franklin Road abortion clinic for a goofy sort of counter-protest, making use of social media and calling it Saturday Chores.

Their shtick has been for one to hold a sign that they find random or humorous or both, the other to take a picture, and then to use that picture to add to a series of pro-choice posts. Their humorous approach has been universally praised by the media outlets that have picked this up over the last week or two.

Here is the problem: the death of babies isn’t funny. When mothers are in crisis, it isn’t funny.

So there is nothing praiseworthy about their approach, because babies are dying every day on the other side of that clinic door. And the mothers who are coming, having been told and wanting to believe that they are solving their problem, are only increasing their troubles exponentially. A baby isn’t a problem, and abortion isn’t a solution. These women need the hope of the good news of Jesus Christ, along with caring practical help, which is exactly what we are there to offer, and that is no laughing matter.

That is why I am so glad that Taylor Tsantles is leading the effort to carefully articulate what we are doing at the clinic and why at hopebeforethedoor.com. You will find visiting well worth your time.

One last thought. One of the random counter-protest signs was “I Like Turtles“. Ironically, our culture loves turtles at the same time that we hate babies. Consider this sign posted above a sea turtle nest that my daughter encountered this past weekend on the beach:

Protecting Sea Turtle Eggs

 

That’s right: mess with a turtle egg and you just might be facing a $100,000 fine and a year in prison. But kill your baby and exit the clinic to a round of applause.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Christ Can Ever Maintain His Own Cause

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

When the global church is pressed on every side, from without and within, it is good to remember that the great Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, needs no help in defending His own.

Consider the true words of J.C. Ryle:

“Fear not for the Church of Christ – when ministers die, and saints are taken away. Christ can ever maintain His own cause. He will raise up better servants and brighter stars. The stars are all in His right hand. Leave off all anxious thought about the future. Cease to be cast down by the measures of statesmen, or the plots of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Christ will ever provide for His own Church. Christ will take care that ‘the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’ All is going on well, though our eyes may not see it. The kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdoms of our God, and of His Christ.” (Holiness, Chapter 13, “The Church Which Christ Builds”)

Reprise: That Will Never Be Marriage

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

I originally posted “That Will Never Be Marriage” a year ago. It is as needful a blast of the trumpet as it was a year ago, and maybe more so. In the post, I said I was setting reminders on my calendar to republish this each year for the next five years, and so I did. So without further ado:

That Will Never Be Marriage

The progress made by the proponents of homosexual marriage is nothing short of breathtaking. If momentum means anything at all, it will only be another year or two until same-sex marriage has been so overwhelmingly accepted in the United States that those who oppose it won’t even have a significant platform for articulating objections. The advocates who have so skillfully advanced it will have the luxury of just shrugging and waving us off with disdain. In my lifetime, we will have switched spots.

Almost forgotten is the God who called all things into existence with only the words of His mouth. He is the One that keeps the debate from being over. God should never, ever be left out of any equation, because no matter what mankind says or does, He always speaks last, and what He says goes. In card playing lingo, every card in His hand is an ace of spades. Always the highest card. Always trump. Always.

And so that will never be marriage, no matter how many people say it is or how long they say it. Two men, no matter what they say or what they do, can never be married. Two women, no matter what they say or what they do, can never be married.  Because marriage is God’s, and no amount of momentum can ever change that. It is His institution, given in the first chapter of the book of beginnings. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…’” (Genesis 1:27-28a). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). This is God’s. This is marriage.

Is there another view to be had in all of Scripture? No. None. The last prophet of the Old Testament is simply representative: “You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.” (Malachi 2:13b-15). Three profound things are learned from the three questions in the text and their answers. God responds when His institution of marriage is dishonored, it is only God who can make two one, and He does so to increase those who honor Him. All three of these truths stand immovably between God’s creatures and any such thing as gay marriage.

And the New Testament seals this truth with stunning clarity. Having spoken at length about how husbands and wives must relate to one another, Paul says this: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32). This is why, just a few verses earlier, he said that husbands must act like Christ and wives must act like the church. Because this institution was created by God to play out the most sacred drama – the gospel drama – before a home and before a world. So Christians can never, ever accept homosexual marriage, because it fundamentally upends the gospel drama. It destroys the gospel picture that God created marriage to be. And so that will never be marriage.

I am setting reminders on my calendar to republish this each year for the next five years, because saying it once won’t be nearly enough. I will need to lay my eyes on these words again and again myself, and I’m guessing you will too. And when we read it, we will remember that God always has the highest card to play, that He always plays trump, and that He will act at just the right moment.

“Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’… Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” (Psalm 2:1-6, 10-12).

Brothers and sisters, our duty is to declare the truth of Scripture, never letting the light of that truth be extinguished by even the greatest multitude, and to pray fervently that when our God acts, it will be to grant repentance and faith to those enslaved to sin, and not to send the judgment we so richly deserve. May we be found laboring tirelessly towards those ends!

Twenty-Three Years of Wedded Bliss

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Outside of the day I was born again by the grace of God, the most important and wonderful day of my life was Saturday, June 29, 1991, the day Janet Mizelle walked up the aisle on the arm of her father and then walked back down that aisle on my arm as Janet Dohm.

Months before that day, I desperately wanted her to agree to marry me, but I’m still not entirely sure why she did. Janet was and is lovely, intelligent, fun, funny, godly, and above all, God-fearing and God-loving. The term “better half” has never been more appropriate. God has been so kind to give us twenty-three very happy years together, and my prayer is that our love for each other would continue to grow as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18a).

Dohms Wedding w Browns

Bill Brown Reads Our Recitation Text

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Every three months we choose a new text to recite and memorize together so that we are hiding God’s word in our hearts. The text is normally from the book of the Bible that is being preached, but this time we are reciting Isaiah 44:24-28 because the book being preached, the Book Ezra, is the breathtaking fulfillment of this prophecy:

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and He who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who makes all things, who stretches out the heavens all alone, who spreads abroad the earth by Myself; 25 who frustrates the signs of the babblers, and drives diviners mad; who turns wise men backward, and makes their knowledge foolishness; 26 who confirms the word of His servant, and performs the counsel of His messengers; who says to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be inhabited,’ to the cities of Judah, ‘You shall be built,’ and I will raise up her waste places; 27 who says to the deep, ‘Be dry! And I will dry up your rivers’; 28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” and to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” ‘

Isaiah was given this prophecy something like one hundred and forty years in advance of it coming to pass, with Cyrus, the Gentile king God would use, called out by name!

Now, if you have heard the resonant voice of Bill Brown reading Scripture, you know what a treat it is. Here he is reading our current recitation text.

This is available because Hope Baptist is working their way through Isaiah, and two of my kiddos, Megan and Jake, are recording him reading that book and putting it up on the internet. This is where you can access Bill Brown reading Isaiah.

Enjoy!

More on Birthdays

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

A couple of years ago I posted some wisdom from John Calvin regarding birthdays. Now some more from J.C. Ryle’s “Holiness” (the chapter on “Assurance”):

I believe it ought to be our continual aim and desire to go forward, and our watchword on every returning birthday and at the beginning of every year should be “more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1) – more knowledge, more faith, more obedience, more love. If we have brought forth thirty-fold, we should seek to bring forth sixty; and if we have brought forth sixty, we should strive to bring forth a hundred. The will of the Lord is our sanctification, and it ought to be our will too (Matthew 13:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

Here are the texts he references, with the sections he quotes in italics and underlined:

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; 2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. 7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 8 Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.

Matthew 13:23, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Exactly! Our glorious God is worthy of a lifetime of progress in the faith. The sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of a lifetime of demonstrated thankfulness. More and more indeed! Not to earn favor, but because we have inexplicably received unearned favor.

What could make for a happier birthday?