Trinity College Library (Ireland)

[Adapted from Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory of 1673]

Because God has made available the excellent, holy writings of his servants; and many may have a good book, on any day or at any hour of the week, even those who have no access to a good preacher – I advise all God’s servants to be thankful for so great a gift as books, and to make use of them, and to read much. For reading can be more conducive to knowledge than hearing is, because you may choose what subjects, and the best treatises, you please; and you may read as often as you please; and you may peruse again and again whatever you forget; and you may take your time as you go, to fix it in your mind. And as is the case with very many, reading does more than hearing to move the heart – because lively books may be more easily accessed than lively preachers.

Especially these sorts of men and women should be much in reading:

  1. Mothers and Fathers, or heads of households, who have more souls to care for than just their own.
  2. People who live where there is no preaching; or, where there is only bad preaching. (Bad preaching is even worse than none!)
  3. Infirmed people, servants, and children, who are forced on many Lord’s Days to stay at home, while others have the opportunity to hear the Word preached.
  4. And non-working persons, since they have more leisure than others have.

To all these, but especially to parents, I shall here give a few directions.

Direction 1 – I presuppose that you keep the devil’s books out of your hands and house. I mean graphic romance novels or “love-books”, and the false, bewitching and seducing books of all false teachers; and the railing books by various factions written against each other, on purpose, to teach men to hate one another. For where these are allowed to corrupt the mind, other useful writings are forestalled in their benefits. It is an awful wonder to see how powerfully these kinds of writings poison the minds of children, and of many other empty heads.

Also refrain from books that are written by contemporary “sons of Korah“; those written to breed distastes and discontents in the minds of the people against their governors – both magistrates and ministers. For there is always something, even in the best leaders, for the tongues of seditious men to fasten on, and then to aggravate in the people’s ears and minds; and there is something even in godly people, which tempts them all too easily to become ill-tempered,  then to take aim and take fire, before they are aware of what they are doing. Rarely do most people, even godly people, foresee the evil to which such treachery leads.

Direction 2 – When you read to your family, or to others, let it be seasonably and timely – at a time when silence and participation are most likely to bear fruit; not when children are crying or talking, or servants bustling to disturb you. Distraction is worst in the greatest businesses.

Direction 3 – Choose such books as are most suitable to your condition, or to the spiritual condition of those you read to. It is worse than unprofitable to read books designed for comforting troubled minds to those that are block-headedly self-secure, and who have hardened, obstinate, un-humbled hearts. It is just as bad as a physician giving medicines or remedies that are contrary to a patient’s need, and that would actually nourish the disease! So it is to read books that are too high-a-style, or subject too deep, to dull or ignorant hearers. We use to say: “That which is one man’s meat, is another man’s poison.” It is not enough that the substance is good – but it must be agreeable to the situation for which it is used.

Direction 4 – In a common family, begin with those books which both, and at once, inform the understanding about the fundamentals of the faith and awaken the affections of the heart, such as treatises about regeneration, conversion, or repentance.

Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most – but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.

“Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most – but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.”

Direction 5 – Next, read over those books which are most suited to the state of young Christians for their growth in grace, and for their exercise of faith, and love, and obedience, and for the mortifying of selfishness, pride, sensuality, worldliness, and other of the most dangerous sins.

Direction 6 – At the same time labor to methodize your knowledge; and to that end read first and learn some short catechism, and then some larger catechism. And let the catechism be kept in memory while you live, and the rest be thoroughly understood.

Direction 7 – Next read (to yourselves or or to your families) some larger expositions of the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments; such as Thomas Watson on the Commandments; that your understanding may be more full, particular, and distinct, and your families may not be limited to a mere general knowledge, which, in truth, is not as valuable as genuine understanding.

Direction 8 – Read often and much those books that direct you in a course of daily communion with God, and a holy ordering of your daily life.

Lord, Make Me Like You

April 28, 2017

Dr Odd (Picasso)

I don’t recall where or when I first heard following story, but it has often caused me to stop and ask myself about my attitude and motivations:  Prayer

A man prayed to the Lord: “Lord, make me like you; may my words & thoughts be like yours; may my actions produce great fruit…”

This was his regular prayer.

Then one day a voice from within – perhaps the Holy Spirit, perhaps his own mind – simply said one word: “Why?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why?’  Lord, it’s a standard prayer!”

But why did he want to be like the Lord?  Why do I want to be like Jesus?

1.     So people will think highly of us?

-or-

2.     For God’s Glory

-and/or –

3.     Because the Lord is pleased with Jesus

How we answer makes a world of difference.

I’ve been there. Likely, so have you.  The year begins with good intentions, and maybe even a strong start, only to fizzle days later.  The Statistic Brain Research Institute reports that 75% of New Years Resolutions are broken within the first week of the New Year.  No doubt most of the others go down soon thereafter.

Among the more frequent vows is a renewed commitment to read the Bible:

  • Read the whole Bible in one year
  • Read the Bible daily, or just more often

This seems a noble resolve. And as a church pastor, it is certainly one I applaud.  In fact, I often share some Bible Reading plans for anyone who endeavors to take up this challenge.  (Like this one: Bible Reading Plan for Slackers & Shirkers)

But in the brief (3 minute) video above, Steve Childers, of Global Church Advancement, offers a caution about making such resolutions – even resolutions such as to pray more or to read the Bible.

It may seem odd that I am posting such caution about making spiritual resolutions, especially since I commended the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards in a post just yesterday.  But without denying the potential benefit of reflecting upon Edwards’ Resolutions, nor even the positive effects of increased Bible reading and prayer during the coming year, I think Childers makes a good point.

Consider this:

The state of our heart is of utmost importance as we practice spiritual disciplines. It’s possible to read our Bibles, pray, attend Lord’s Day worship, and even take the Lord’s Supper for all types of reasons. But unless we do it for God’s glory, and our joy in him, it does us no ultimate good.

Or as Charles Spurgeon reasoned:

“It is not enough to do the correct thing; it must be done in a right spirit, and with a 
pure motive. A good action is not wholly good unless it be done for the glory of God, 
and because of the greatness and goodness of his holy name.”

In no way would I ever dissuade anyone from increasing their spiritual vitality through partaking in such means of grace as prayer and Bible study. Nor does Childers.  But Childers does wisely warn against resolutions that may result in merely going through religious motions – even if those motions come more frequently.  Instead Childers points us to the source of all grace, and encourages us to avail ourselves of all that is offered.

Take a moment to watch the video, and to consider what Childers says.  For those who prefer to read, a transcript of the message can be read on Childers’ blog: Pathway Learning

Preaching Gospel to Self

Paul, in Colossians 2.6, instructs us: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…”  Simple words, but powerfully practical when unpacked.

How did we “receive” Jesus?  By faith and repentance – of by repentance and faith.  We are not quite sure which comes first, but perhaps that does not matter.  It may be that the order is different with different people. What matters is that genuine conversion involves both of these elements: Repentance of our sin and all our desire and attempts to save ourselves through our good behavior; Faith in the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done on our behalf, and what is offered to us in him.

If these are the two elements by which we received Jesus, then according to the Apostle’s instruction these are the two elements that should be characteristic of our day-to-day life in Jesus.  The old Puritan Thomas Watson once wisely noted: “Faith and repentance are the two wings by which we fly toward heaven.”  In other words, faith and repentance are not only the instruments by which the journey of salvation is initiated, these are the practices by which we travel.  These are the ingredients of spiritual growth leading to maturity.

The chart above reflects both faith and repentance, and provides a tool to help us be able to “preach the gospel to ourselves”.

It reminds us that when recognize sin in our lives our response should not be to simply resolve to stop it, but we need to discern it’s source.  In other words, the sin we see, the sin which shows itself in our behavior, has deeper roots and causes.  So, like an explorer commissioned to trace the a great river to discover it’s tributaries and it’s origin, we are called upon to discover what “root sins” are tributaries of our behavior, and ultimately what “idols” are the original source.  Once discovered – or even while in the process of discovery – “putting sin to death” requires that we confess it and repent of it.  All of it – the sinful behaviors, the attitudes that lead to it, and the idols that source it.  Growth in grace is greater than mere moral reform.  Growth in grace is a work of the Spirit upon the heart which eventually and inevitably leads to a change in behavior.

Yet growth in grace does not come by confession and repentance alone.  Such may lead to behavior change, if we feel guilty enough and desire to change. But that is not growth in grace.  Growth in grace requires that we believe what grace gives; that we ponder what is true, and good, and beautiful: chiefly among such things is the gospel, the good news of what God promises – and does – when we trust  in Jesus.  (Philippians 4.8)   Reminded of the truths of the gospel our hearts change; they turn toward God, causing us to hunger to grow to be more like him, and enabling us to rely on his promise that what he began he will complete.  (Philippians 1.6)

This is the spiritual discipline of preaching the gospel to ourselves.

Three Sail

Discipleship requires at least three things or its not true discipleship:

1. Gospel centered
2. Empowerment by the Spirit
3. Authentic Community

5 Obedience Killing Lies

January 20, 2015

Colorful Confusion

No doubt in my mind, it is one of the more difficult aspects of living in line with the gospel. Is it about grace, or is it about obedience?  If I say “both” – which I do – then how does this not add a requirement of works to the gospel requirement of faith alone for our justification/salvation?  If I say obedience is not necessary to our salvation – which I also say – then are we not very close to the precipice of anti-nomianism (lawlessness)?  No wonder people scratch their heads, and then revert back to patterns learned or to personal instinct – both of which are often wrong.

To avoid confusion, I answered “Yes” to both grace and obedience for a reason.  Let me clarify.

I must say that our obedience is not necessary to our salvation, because we are incapable of perfect obedience – and perfect obedience is what the Law demands.  To add any measure of obedience to our justification would be to minimize the law and deny the gospel at the same time.  Christ became like us, and lived in perfect obedience to his Father, and then died in our place, because we are not and cannot be perfectly obedient.  And it we are not perfectly obedient, we are not obedient.  But by faith, we are counted as righteous – credited with Jesus’ righteousness as if it were our very own.  But part of what we must believe, as part of that faith is that we are disobedient.  In a real sense the admission of being disobedient is requisite to be saved. How then could we say that obedience is required for salvation?

On the other hand, God does demand obedience – and he is worthy of our total obedience.  But two things occur here, in some ways simultaneously.  First, the demand for what we do not and cannot do highlights our brokenness and our dependence upon grace – the grace of a savior.  The demand, coupled with our lack of obedience, drives us to either despair or to the cross. Those driven to the cross find, not condemnation, but forgiveness and love, through unmerited grace extended to us by God, because of Jesus.  This breaking, because we become aware of our disobedience, is a necessary step toward healing and wholeness.  But second, God’s demands are not a mere bait and switch. When he commands obedience, he means it.  Inability it no excuse.  He commands because obedience not only pleases him, we find that his ways are the ways the work, that lead us to the greatest joy.  In short, we find in both obedience and our failures to obey that God’s commands are really a tremendous gift of his love.

While I hope the reader will see the dichotomy – the two distinct tracks – I also hope all will be able to see how these two tracks work together.  Obedience cannot be required for salvation, because it denies both our reality and the necessity of the gospel.  But in walking with God, obedience is expected – though we fail, and are reminded of our continual need of grace – but it is expected, demanded, because through obedience we are able to bring joy to both God and ourselves.  Failure, or disobedience as a Christian does not cause the forfeiture of our salvation; but as Job discovered, we can forfeit the grace of joy that would otherwise be ours – and rob God of the joy that we would give to him.  But if that drives us back to the cross, we find grace anew, and we are renewed in faith, strength, to experience the joy that comes through gospel-prompted obedience.

Because this can be such a dizzying subject, I was appreciative when I recently read a short piece by Brad Watson, titled 5 Obedience Killing Lies.  Watson rightly notes:

Our ability to quit and become sidetracked is great.

I believe we get sidetracked by the confusion of the place of obedience, as well as by many other things that creep into our consciousness that hinder our pursuit of obedience.  Watson focuses on the more practical issues, rather than the confusion of the relationship of Law vs. Grace.  As he says in his article:

Our hearts are constantly being attacked by lies that keep us from persevering in faith. These five lies are particularly successful. They are deceptive and effective in killing our conviction to follow Jesus and trust in his work.

Read the rest of this entry »

Messy Christian Communities

January 7, 2015

Missional Communities

As our church makes the slow but intentional shift toward Missional Communities, I found this illustration to be a good picture of the contrast between common perception and ideal reality of what such communities, or small groups, and even church is like.

On the left side, “What People Think It Looks Like“, we see the idea that the Christian life is one that should be free of ugliness.  It makes sense, right?  If all the people in the group are saved by Jesus, forgiven of sin, and empowered to overcome their sin, then a gathering of Christians should be pretty clean, and always leading us upaward.  Isn’t this what Paul calls for in Ephesians 4?

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  (v. 1-3 ESV)

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (v. 11-13 NIV)

It is the picture God calls for, through Paul, in these verses.  But it is the ideal; the objective. It is not the complete picture, at least not at present.  It is sort of a Norman Rockwell version of the Christian life lived in community.  It is true.  But it does not show the complexity, and the brokenness that is all around us, nor the baggage that we all carry in varying degree.

But we have hope to experience it.  Afterall, God has promised it. He has said that he is at work in us, and he would finish what he started. (Philippians 1.6)  And we get a taste of it, if we have the privilege of engaging in a genuine Christian community.

The picture on the right, however, “What It Really Looks Like“, is a reflection of the present reality of Christian community.  It is often messy.  And if it is done right, it should get messier. This is OK, though, because this is God’s means of achieving the picturesque image we may have in our minds when reading Ephesians 4.  It is the sharing of life, the freedom and safety to unload our baggage in the presence of others who, rather than judging and comdeming, help us to sort through it, to own our part, and to see ourselves – and our messes – as God sees: through the lenses of the gospel.

Because each of us has our own mess, it only makes sense that a collection of people would look like a bigger mess.  But there is a beauty in that mess!  Because in the midst of that mess, love is shown.  Love leads to freedom and honesty.  Honesty leads us to the gospel, the power of which transforms us, cleanses us, and frees us from the bondage of all that is aweful and ugly.

Neil Cole has rightly said:

“Life is messy. If someone doesn’t break your heart, you’re not doing it right.”

Likewise, if we are living in community with other Christians, and it never gets messier, it may be a sign that we are not doing it right. Thank God for the messes!  Thank God that he cares about our messes! Thanks to God, he has promised to clean our messes, and use other messed up people in the process.

Please note that while the picture on the right is messy, it does go up.  It is not that there is no evidence of change, of improvement.  There certainly is!  It is just not always a pretty picture on the way.  But it is beautiful – to God and to us – both in process and as a result. This is the beautiful reality of the Christian community – the church.