"Therefore, confess your sins to one another…"

085490400132983363688A sermon on James 5:16-18…

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit (James 5:16-18).

We come to a passage that causes us a great deal of discomfort, even pain. Just the thought of confessing our sins makes us squirm. To do that means admitting we are sinners—even that we are sinners who sin, if you get my drift. Our pride doesn’t like to admit such things. And, yet, we know that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (as James wrote earlier in his letter). So, it is our obligation, with the help of the Holy Spirit whose work it is to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (as it says in John 16:8), to constantly fight our pride. One of the most useful and devastating weapons to use in that battle against our pride is the confession of our sins.

On this topic, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who I have quoted before, wrote the following in his great book Life Together:

The root of all sin is pride… I want to be my own law, I have a right to my self, my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The mind and flesh of man are set on fire by pride; for it is precisely in his wickedness that man wants to be as God … In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death…

That putting to death of sins is what Scripture calls the mortification (putting to death) of the flesh. Bonhoeffer, drawing our attention to the process, the fight, of Christians actively participating in the Spirit’s work of making us more and more holy, is echoing the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: “…if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13), and His letter to the Ephesians: “…in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22-24).

This mortification of the flesh, this pursuit of holiness is the entire life of the Christian… Continue reading

Chrysostom's "Letters to the Fallen Theodore"

53854.pI was digging through some old files and came across this paper written on Chrysostom and his letters to a young man struggling with sin. It’s a long read as far as blog posts go but perhaps someone will find it interesting…and make it to the end.

Biography

In the fourth-century, the great city of Antioch, located in the southern region of modern Turkey, was positioned on an important commercial highway, possessed an intense intellectual tradition, was home to an important Roman military headquarters (serving as a base of operations against the Persians), and was populated by mostly Christian citizens, although paganism (especially in the intellectual circles) and Judaism were tenaciously practiced by many.1 Because of the good climate and amenities of Antioch (and its aforementioned military importance) Emperors frequently visited, including the following during the fourth-century: Constantius II, Gallus, Julian, Jovian, and Valens. No doubt the “amenities” which attracted many to Antioch included various worldly pursuits: baths, gaming, and the theatre. Perhaps in reaction to such worldliness, an extreme asceticism developed in the area with its adherents withdrawing from the city to set up communities in the surrounding countryside. Kelly describes the bifurcated cultural climate in this way:

The citizens of Antioch had a reputation for pleasure-seeking, worldliness, fickleness and cynicism; among other diversions they had a passion for horse-racing and the theatre, and in spring and summer they streamed out to Daphne for relaxation or amusement. By contrast the desert regions near the city, the higher slopes and peaks of Mount Silpios and the other mountains on its outskirts, were becoming populated by hermits and monks who, in obedience to what they conceived to be the call of Christ, had turned their backs on civilization and the vanities of the world.

Additionally, the results of the Council of Nicea (325) were still being worked out in the cities of the world, including Antioch. For many years, bishops sympathetic to Arianism controlled Antioch. But a small faction, lead by Diodore and Flavian, were promoting the Nicene doctrines. In other words, Antioch, like many cities of this time, was deeply divided between proponents and opponents of Nicene orthodoxy.

It was into this cultural climate that John Chrysostom was born—somewhere around 3492—to Secundus, a civil servant to the military governor of Syria, and Anthousa, a Christian woman… Continue reading

What to pray for on a Lord's Day morning (Thomas Watson)…

51XAQ3X7RWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Along with the previous thoughts on Lord’s Day meditation, Watson gives us some specific ways to pray each Sunday morning:

The things we should pray for in the morning of the Sabbath. Let us beg a blessing upon the word which is to be preached; that it may be a savour of life to us; that by it our minds may be more illuminated, our corruptions more weakened, and our stock of grace more increased. Let us pray that God’s special presence may be with us, that our hearts may burn within us while God speaks, that we may receive the word into meek and humble hearts, and that we may submit to it, and bring forth fruits. James i 21. Nor should we only pray for ourselves, but for others.

Pray for him who dispenses the word; that his tongue my be touched with a coal from God’s altar; that God would warm his heart who is to help to warm others. Your prayers may be a means to quicken the minister. Some complain they find no benefit by the word preached; perhaps they did not pray for their minister as they should. Prayer is like the whetting and sharpening of an instrument, which makes it cut better. Pray with and for your family. Yea, pray for all the congregations that meet on this day in the fear of the Lord; that the dew of the Spirit may fall with the manna of the word; that some souls may be converted, and others strengthened; that gospel ordinances may be continued, and have no restraint put upon them. These are the things we should pray for. The tree of mercy will not drop it’s fruit, unless it be shaken by the hand of prayer.

Lord's Day morning meditations (Thomas Watson)…

51XAQ3X7RWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Thomas Watson suggests some ways we can direct our thoughts on Sunday mornings in order to obey the fourth commandment (Exod 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15; Is. 58:13-14). Take these up this coming Lord’s Day and see if you ride on the heights of the earth…

Let your mind dwell on these four things… Continue reading

Sickness by J.C. Ryle…

jcryle12Good words from J.C. Ryle on the benefits of sickness…

He whom thou lovest is sick. — John 11:3

The chapter from which this text is taken is well known to all Bible readers. In life-like description, in touching interest, in sublime simplicity, there is no writing in existence that will bear comparison with that chapter. A narrative like this is to my own mind one of the great proofs of the inspiration of Scripture. When I read the story of Bethany, I feel “There is something here which the infidel can never account for.” — “This is nothing else but the finger of God.”

The words which I specially dwell upon in this chapter are singularly affecting and instructive. They record the message which Martha and Mary sent to Jesus when their brother Lazarus was sick: “Lord, behold he whom Thou lovest is sick,” That message was short and simple. Yet almost every word is deeply suggestive.

Mark the child-like faith of these holy women. They turned to the Lord Jesus in their hour of need, as the frightened infant turns to its mother, or the compass-needle turns to the Pole. They turned to Him as their Shepherd, their almighty Friend, their Brother born for adversity. Different as they were in natural temperament, the two sisters in this matter were entirely agreed. Christ’s help was their first thought in the day of trouble. Christ was the refuge to which they fled in the hour of need. Blessed are all they that do likewise!

Mark the simple humility of their language about Lazarus. They call Him “He whom Thou lovest.” They do not say, “He who loves Thee, believes in Thee, serves Thee,” but “He whom Thou lovest.” Martha and Mary were deeply taught of God. They had learned that Christ’s love towards us, and not our love towards Christ, is the true ground of expectation, and true foundation of hope. Blessed, again, are all they that are taught likewise! To look inward to our love towards Christ is painfully unsatisfying: to look outward to Christ’s love towards us is peace.

Mark, lastly, the touching circumstance which the message of Martha and Mary reveals: “He whom Thou lovest is sick.” Lazarus was a good man, converted, believing, renewed, sanctified, a friend of Christ, and an heir of glory. And yet Lazarus was sick! Then sickness is no sign that God is displeased. Sickness is intended to be a blessing to us, and not a curse. “All things work together for good to them that love God, and are called according to His purpose.” “All things are yours,—life, death, things present, or things to come: for ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 3:22-23). Blessed, I say again, are they that have learned this! Happy are they who can say, when they are ill, “This is my Father’s doing. It must be well.”

I invite the attention of my readers to the subject of sickness. The subject is one which we ought frequently to look in the face. We cannot avoid it. It needs no prophet’s eye to see sickness coming to each of us in turn one day. “In the midst of life we are in death.” Let us turn aside for a few moments, and consider sickness as Christians. The consideration will not hasten its coming, and by God’s blessing may teach us wisdom.

In considering the subject of sickness, three points appear to me to demand attention. On each I shall say a few words.

  1. The universal prevalence of sickness and disease.
  2. The general benefits which sickness confers on mankind.
  3. The special duties to which sickness calls us.

Continue reading

Hunger after righteousness…

What an encouragement is this to hunger after righteousness! Such shall be filled. God charges us to fill the hungry (Isaiah 58:10). He blames those who do not fill the hungry (Isaiah 32:6). And do we think he will be slack in that which he blames us for not doing? Oh come with hungerings after Christ and be assured of satisfaction. God keeps open house for hungry sinners. He invites his guests and bids them come without money (Isaiah 55:1, 2). God’s nature inclines him and his promise obliges him to fill the hungry. Consider, why did Christ receive ‘the Spirit without measure’? (John 3:34). It was not for himself. He was infinitely full before. But he was filled with the holy unction for this end, that he might distil his grace upon the hungry soul. Are you ignorant? Christ was filled with wisdom that he might teach you. Are you polluted? Christ was filled with grace that he might cleanse you. Shall not the soul then come to Christ who was filled on purpose to fill the hungry? We love to knock at a rich man’s door. In our Father’s house there is bread enough. Come with desire and you shall go away with comfort. You shall have the virtues of Christ’s blood, the influences of his Spirit, the communications of his love.

-Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes

Our "local" #giftedcommunicator…

A few months ago, a new advertisement for NewSpring Spartanburg went up. It’s a very simple sign—the name of the church, the address of their website, and the minimalistic logo are accompanied by an arrow pointing toward their new building…

NewSpringSignPrior to a few months ago, it was easy for me to ignore #NewSpring even though she is the “local” evangelical mega-church in town. Now, with their recently opened building near ours, most people arriving at Trinity pass by this sign. If you drive a few yards past the sign, take a right turn (instead of the left the sign is suggesting), you end up at my church. For several months, I’ve mused about placing a sign for Trinity under the NewSpring sign. It would have a similar font, similar layout, similar colors (just enough to distinguish it), an arrow pointing the opposite direction, and a few added hashtags: #nofreecups; #uncool; #notslick; #doctrine; #fleshandbloodpastor; #wcf; #membersnotowners; #webelieveinchurchdiscipline; #webelieveinsanctification; #family; #foolsforchrist; #etc…

At #NewSpring Spartanburg, an image of Perry Noble preaches each week. His image is broadcast from the main “campus” in Anderson, SC, where his body is. #NewSpring’s goal is to have 100,000 members owners in the state of SC at various campuses (already they have set-up shop in Andreson, Boiling Springs, Charleston, Clemson, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, Greenwood, Lexington, Myrtle Beach, and Spartanburg). They’re currently up to 32% of their goal. At each of their campuses they do have a flesh and blood, resident pastor, but, due to the fact that Perry Noble is a #giftedcommunicatorandteacher, they don’t get to preach on Sundays.

So, what is Perry Noble’s preaching like? I watched the first ten or so minutes of Noble’s most recent sermon (“The Best Weekend Ever“) and was thrilled to see that some first-time visitors got fed…by the package of Oreo™ cookies and the box of Krispy Kreme™ donuts that Noble awarded them at the beginning of his sermon.

The first Scripture came along at about the 8-minute mark. Romans 6:23 was printed on the flat-screen TV next to Noble: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV). A wonderful verse, no? A sobering opportunity to talk about the ravages of sin and the incredible grace of God, no? Well, here’s how Noble got into his exegesis of this passage: Continue reading

Self-denial, which brings contentment…

It is a hard lesson. You know that when a child is first taught, he complains: This is hard; it is just like that. I remember Bradford the martyr said, ‘Whoever has not learned the lesson of the cross, has not learned his ABC in Christianity.’ This is where Christ begins with his scholars, and those in the lowest form must begin with this; if you mean to be Christians at all, you must buckle to this or you can never be Christian. Just as no-one can be a scholar unless he learns his ABC, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment. That is the first lesson that Christ teaches any soul, self-denial, which brings contentment, which brings down and softens a man’s heart. You know how when you strike something soft it makes no noise, but if you strike a hard thing it makes a noise; so with the hearts of men who are full of themselves, and hardened with self-love, if they receive a stroke they make a noise, but a self-denying Christian yields to God’s hand, and makes no noise. When you strike a woolsack it makes no noise because it yields to the stroke; so a self-denying heart yields to the stroke and thereby comes to this contentment.

—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

Anxiety is counterproductive…

broken-eggsSpurgeon put it this way…

Have you not found out yet—I have,—that the very anxiety, which arises through your being in a difficulty, unfits you to meet that difficulty?

You are like the servant with the basket of eggs on her head, who shakes her head because she is afraid her eggs will fall, and makes them fall by the very process of her trembling.

Remembering sin…

Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? “But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” — He said to the paralytic — “I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home” (Luke 17:20-24).

Sin is the main problem in the world, right? At least we know that to be the thing Christians are supposed to say. Sin is the reason we need salvation by the Son of God. We know that truth in our heads but have we gotten confused about it? Do we really believe it?

Our physical bodies often dominate our thoughts and determine our actions. We are well studied when it comes to knowing our diets and our treatments and our doctors and our aches and pains but virtually ignorant when it comes to knowing our spiritual health. Think about the focus of our prayers. 75% of the requests you and I bring to prayer meetings is for physical healing and relief. Yes, Jesus cares about our bodies (as we see in these miracles). Yes, diseases and afflictions are the result of sin so to talk of one is to talk of the other. But we make a serious and fatal mistake if we think our worst problems are those that afflict our bodies. Continue reading