Sunday, September 04, 2016, 12:00 AM
We begin with biblical teaching geared toward the growing student. Then, we split into small groups and discuss the applications of the lesson. Each small group is led by a ...
Today is the anniversary of the death of my favorite Puritan, John Owen. Owen died on August 24, 1683 at the age of 67. My love and esteem for this man is so profound that when our son was born, Sara and I named Zack after John Owen; Zachary Owen Brown.
Many of my heroes in the faith have been named John.
John Wycliffe (1320-1384), who labored to give the people of England the Bible in their native language and led the “Lollards”.
John Huss (1369-1415), who worked to recover the gospel of grace among the Czech people.
John Calvin (1509-1564), the reformer from Geneva and chief theologian of the Reformation.
John Bunyan (1628-1688), who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress and spent 12 years in jail because he would not cease from preaching the gospel.
Jon(athan) Edwards (1703-1758), who was instrumental in the First Great Awakening and briefly served as president of Princeton College.
John Braun, who is one of my mentors and whose devotion to the worship of Christ, love for scripture, and commitment to prayer underscores that he is a latter day Puritan.
John Owen was significantly used of God to speak to his generation and the generations that succeeded him. Regarding John Owen, he wrote:
“Believers know of themselves they have no sufficiency – that without Christ they can do nothing: therefore, they look to Him, who is entrusted with a fullness of all grace in their behalf; and thereupon by faith derive from Him an increase of that in which they so desperately stand in need…From Christ do they receive the Spirit to dwell in them; from Him the new principle of life, which is the root of all of their obedience; and from Christ have they actual assistance for every duty that they are called to do. In waiting and expectation and receiving of these blessings, do they spend their lives and their time with Him. In vain is help looked for from any other mountain; in vain do men spend their strength in following after righteousness, if this not be centered in Christ. Fix your soul in Christ and you shall never be ashamed. This is the way, the only way, to obtain full, effectual manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in us; to have our hearts purified and consciences purged, our sins put to death, our graces increased, our souls made humble, holy, zealous, and believing – and to be like Him…” (The Works of John Owen, Communion with God, Vol. 2, pp. 206-207)
I know that that is a wordy statement which is filled with run on sentences. But it breathes a Christ-centeredness which I long for in my life.
John Owen gave the valedictorian address at Oxford when he was 16 years of age. And he gave it in Latin!
He had the equivalent of several Ph.D.s and he befriended a lowly Baptist preacher named John Bunyan who was a man of little education and was a tinker (an itinerant tinsmith who mended household utensils). One day, Owen was in the presence of the King of England, Charles II. The king belittled Bunyan and asked how an incredibly gifted and educated man such as Owen could sit and listen to the illiterate tinker, John Bunyan, to which Owen replied: “May it please Your Majesty, could I possess that tinker’s abilities for preaching, I would most gladly relinquish all my learning.”
This is just one reason I love this man! Therefore, I celebrate John Owen on his death date. May we live lives of faithfulness unto the Lord.
From June 29-July 13, East Cooper Baptist Church sent a team to the Czech Republic to partner with a local Baptist church in the small town of Sumperk, about 140 miles east of Prague. The mission was to assist them in their annual English Camp for Czech high school students. The camp is a great opportunity to gather local students who have all taken English in school, but have had no conversational outlet with native English speakers. The nine days of camp were filled with English in the morning, sports, crafts, hikes, and workshops all afternoon, and Gospel-centered teaching and singing in the evening. Through that busy schedule, relationships skyrocketed, laughter was constant, and the hope of seeing students come to Christ became tangible.
A very prominent statue, which stands tall at the centermost point in Prague, is of Protestant Reformer Jan Hus. Hus was burned at the stake for holding firm to the Gospel of Christ alone. He is often referred to as the first reformer since he died nearly 100 years before Martin Luther. Every year on July 6, all Czechs celebrate Jan Hus with a national holiday. In spite of this rich history, the nation boasts of its predominately religion-less culture. One guide in Prague said, “We are 87% atheist.” Even the CIA’s World Fact Book lists the national religion as 88% unspecified or none. The cathedrals only host tourists and postcard racks and children are raised to believe what their parents teach…there is no God.
In spite of this, there are small candles all over the big house that is the Czech Republic. Small bodies of believers are living bright lives, eager to share the light, to gather in the light, and to feed on the Word which brings the light. This small church in Sumperk, with its 130 members and thriving student ministry was able to organize and pull off an English camp for 90 people. There was great prayer and fasting before the camp and truly impressive follow-up and discipleship strategies after. Over the nine days of camp, several students shared their stories of coming to faith in Jesus Christ through this very camp during previous summers. God is doing a great work in the Czech Republic!
The lights seem to be dimming in America. Church attendance is dropping, public displays of faith are deemed inappropriate or forbidden, and the Christian understanding of morality has nearly been lost. These are dark days. But...there is one great hope! There is one great light! There is one great light that Jan Hus stood for as the fires took his life. There is one great hope that draws the faithful few together in Sumperk, Czech Republic. There is one great light that motivates a faithful body three hours east of Prague to dedicate tremendous time, effort, emotion, and resources to sponsor yet another English Camp!
Even as the lights dim in our home country, we have the same hope that all Christians everywhere have always had…and it’s enough! We have Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2). Be encouraged church! We are not alone. We are not in the dark.
Looking for a good beach book? Or a good book in general? Often for me that means fiction, particularly crime fiction and these days Scandinavian crime fiction. That is all well and good, but what if you could use your beach time to deepen your understanding of God, nourish your soul, and grow in your ability to think biblically about the times we live in? Here is a list of short books that will make for good reading this summer, on or off the beach. The longest of them is 144 pages and a number of them are less than 100 pages in length. Some of them can be read in a little more than an hour.
How to Walk Into Church, Tony Payne
Does walking into church on Sundays deserve its own “how to manual”? Tony Payne points out that our walk into church reveals a great deal about what we think church is, what it’s for and what you think you're doing here. This book provides plenty of practical advice to help us think biblically about church.
Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, Michael Reeves
The Trinity is a basic belief of the Christian faith. Here is a book that will help you go beyond abstract considerations to life-giving application of the gospel which flows out of the eternal relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer
This is the book I most recommend to those who are struggling to understand how to make sense of God’s sovereign purposes in election and how they relate to our moral responsibilities as human beings to respond to his free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions About Homosexuality, the Bible, and Same-Sex Attraction, Sam Allberry
This small book explains what the Bible says about homosexuality with clarity and simplicity. The author is an evangelical pastor who has struggled with same-sex-attraction.
The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life, Vincent Bacote
This Book raises the question, “What do politics have to do with God?” It shows us how to live in a way that sees public engagement as a expression of Christian faithfulness. Vincent Bacote will be speaking on this topic at ECBC on Monday, October 10, 2016.
The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes
Don’t fear the Puritans. Here is a book that provides comfort for Christians who are troubled by the fact that some days, or most days, it just seems like the sinful old creation is regularly triumphing over the new creation. C.H. Spurgeon wrote of Sibbes, “He scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.”
Triumphing Over Sinful Fear, John Flavel
This is another very accessible and greatly helpful Puritan book. Everyone experiences fear. This book will help you develop practical habits of thinking, feeling, and acting that keep the cares of your life from growing into sinful fear that robs you of the joy that comes from knowing God’s great care for us.
So take an hour or two or seven and read a few or all of these books this summer. I leave you with a thought from A.W. Tozer, “The things you read will fashion you by slowly conditioning your mind.”
If you are in Christ, the Lord is not going to leave you to yourself. That is a very good thing. God’s will is that we be sanctified. (1 Thes 4:3a) To this end, He will allow all sorts of things in your life to help you grow in holiness, grace, wisdom, knowledge, and Christ-likeness. Oftentimes, this process will include some growing pains. In the midst of the pain, it is beneficial to recognize what is happening and to have a view from above instead of just struggling along. For instance, one way that God often sanctifies me is by bringing difficult people into my life. Do you have anyone like this in your life? Don’t like them, but have to love them. Be encouraged, believers! God is at work and if His Spirit dwells in you, He WILL NOT leave you to struggle alone. Here are four ways that you can move forward and grow with a difficult person in your life:
Prayer is foundational for everything. Without prayer, nothing can happen because it is not by any human effort that sanctification takes place. This is a work of the Spirit. It is counterintuitive to love difficult people and to do good to those who are not good to you, because our flesh wants to behave as the flesh behaves. To respond in the Spirit, we must be in prayer. It is especially helpful to memorize passages of Scripture such as Ephesians 6:10-20 on the armor of God, and Ephesians 2:1-10 to preach the gospel to ourselves. Remember, we are sinners saved by grace alone, no better than that difficult person we are struggling to love.
You will also want to gather one or two prayer warriors to pray with you. Be careful not to broadcast to everyone about this difficult person and slander their name. You might feel better telling people in the moment, but in the long run, that will not grow you in sanctification.
The Lord commands gratitude. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes 5:16-18). When we are thankful, our hearts are turned to the Lord. Complaining spirits are turned from Him. We cannot receive from God when we are complaining and bitter (Philippians 2:14-15).
Being thankful also helps us to see the difficult person in a fresh way, perhaps even as Jesus might see them. This helps us have a softer heart towards them, and perhaps they will then have a softer heart towards us. Then, usually, people are more receptive to hearing the Gospel and there may be an opportunity to speak into their life in an even more meaningful, eternal way.
We also have to forgive past wrongs and allow the Lord to handle those things for us if we are to move forward. They may not deserve it. We may not either. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “Christ died to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15) If we think for one moment that we are any better than the difficult person we are struggling with, we are being deceived. This is the very first tactic of the enemy: deception. “All we like sheep have gone astray.” (Isaiah 53:6) Our sins might be different, but all sin is the same before our Holy God and we are all deserving of His wrath, (Romans 3:23) but God, in His infinite mercy and Grace, chose to love us instead. (Ephesians 2:1-9) How can we extend judgment when all we have received is grace? (Matt 18:33-35) Is it easy? No, but that is why we need the Lord. Only He is capable of such things. Apart from Him we are undone. We must abide in the Vine. (John 15:4)
Paul tells us in Romans 12 how to treat those who wrong us. “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14,21) Again, this is counterintuitive. This is Spirit living, not flesh living. It takes a lot of prayer. When we do good to people, it means we are not treating them as their sins deserve. That is just how God treats us. With grace. We are to treat others the same way that God treats us. In so doing, we just may get the chance to share the Gospel and that changes everything.
We must extend grace and we must examine our own lives for ways we could be contributing to the problem in the relationship. Are you being provocative? Even if you are not in the wrong, there might be things you can do to help mitigate the problem. “In so far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18)
Sometimes, the difficult person might remain difficult regardless of the kindness you show. They may never become receptive to the Gospel or towards you. What then? I am reminded of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and so were thrown into the fiery furnace. They declared: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King. But if not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18). The same is true of us. God is certainly able to deliver us from a difficult person, but even if He does not, we are still called to be obedient to Him alone. It is still about our sanctification.
In the process, He will bless us. He will grow us to be more like Jesus, He will train us in holiness, He will teach us more about His character, reveal more of His faithfulness, give us more of His presence, and fill us with peace that passes understanding. In obedience, we will not grieve the Holy Spirit or dampen His power in our lives and in our prayers. Following Jesus is not easy, but it is good because He is good, and He alone has the Words of eternal life. (John 6:68-69)
Recently, I had the opportunity to take a group of high schoolers on a mission trip to Philadelphia where we worked with a local church planter named Alonzo Johnson. Our aim was to support and serve Alonzo by helping him to continue to build and strengthen relationships in the community with the goal of sharing the gospel. We spent a lot of time in the neighborhood elementary school hanging out with students in the cafeteria and gym, helping teachers pack up their classrooms, and assisting with some general maintenance like painting and moving furniture. During a few of our afternoons we went out into the community to hand out water bottles, talked to people about Jesus, and cleaned up trash in a local park. The highlight of our trip, though, was an event we hosted and dubbed “Field Day” for all of the kids and families that we had been hanging out with during the course of the week.
Field Day was to occur in Franklin Park which is the local park and playground in the neighborhood of Northeast Philly where we were serving. Our plan for the event involved everything from water balloons to kickball to a slip-and-slide. As we got to know the kids and their families and invite them to our end of the week event, an interesting reaction occurred. The kids we were inviting kept asking why. Why were we going to the park? Didn’t we know that’s where people sold drugs? Didn’t we know the park wasn’t safe? Some of our students relayed the kids’ skepticism to Alonzo and his response really stuck with me. He expressed his frustration and disappointment about how the kids couldn’t feel safe in the park and on the playground and how the purpose of the park was to be used and enjoyed by families and their kids. He explained how at one time the park had organized sports and community events and how it was a place where people not only felt safe, but had fun. Over time, people moved out of the neighborhood and the priorities for the city’s budget didn’t involve funds for the park. Eventually, the park became neglected and fell out of use. Our hope was to change that. The end of the week arrived and Field Day was a huge success. Dozens of kids came out to play kickball, basketball, throw water balloons, and eat popsicles. Upon hearing the music and games being played, other people that we hadn’t even met at the school came out to join in the fun as well. Throughout all of this, our students were starting up conversations with folks, sharing the gospel, and handing out Bibles. By the end of the day it felt like the whole neighborhood had come out to take part in the festivities.
For those few hours, Franklin Park was briefly restored to its former glory. There were kids and families laughing, smiling, and having fun. It was how things were supposed to be all along. The immediate hope in being a presence in the park was to demonstrate and remind the community of the park’s true and original purpose, a place for kids to play and the community to gather. By initiating games and activities, our desire was to give the neighborhood a glimpse of how things could be. The broader and more long-term goal was to offer restoration of another kind, the kind of restoration that occurs only through the one true mediator, Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). Franklin Park had become neglected and was no longer being operated as it was initially intended. It needed to be restored. In the same way, humanity needs to be restored. Created as image-bearers of God, our ability to reflect who God is has been interrupted. Although mankind is still identifiable as being created in the image of God, that image is blurred and marred due to the effects of sin. The only way for mankind’s proper purpose and intent to be restored is through the grace of God found in Christ on the cross
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul highlights the preeminence of Christ by saying “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of Hhis cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). By His blood we are made clean and through His death we are given life. By His blood we are reconciled with God and ultimately all things will be restored to how they should be. Until then, we are to wait with great hope and expectation just as creation itself does:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 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” (Romans 1:19-23).
As Christ’s representatives and ambassadors on this earth, we have the privileged ability and opportunity to display restoration on a daily basis. We get to be salt and light, helping to point people to the reality of the fullness of joy found in life with Christ. We were privileged to help Alonzo and his church plant in their efforts to restore Northeast Philly with the gospel and it is our hope to continue to be salt and light among our own friends and neighbors now that we’ve returned. Restoration is needed everywhere and thankfully the good news of the gospel is uninhibited by geography and culture.
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