Monday, November 6, 2023
Tuesday, May 30, 2023
This is an excerpt from the Sunday sermon on May 28, 2023 by Pastor Lonnie Atwood.
But we are also to honor marriage, practically, in our own homes, and by the way we conduct ourselves in purity with one another in the church. This starts with husbands loving your wives as Christ loved the church. Men are to lead in their homes, and in their marriages, with sacrificial love. They nurture their wives, and care for her like a garden. The man tends to his wife with the love of Christ and the word of Christ, and she bears fruit- physically with children, and spiritually in godliness. This is the standard that is to be upheld in the church, and all of God’s people are to rejoice in that because, again, that says something about Jesus, and His relationship with us. Adultery, and sexual immorality say something anti-Gospel. A husband who lusts after a woman who is not his wife is living out an anti-Gospel. The same for a wife who gives herself to another man. Jesus Christ deals with us in all purity and devotion. Husbands and wives must do the same.
Tuesday, March 7, 2023
I meet regularly with a group of Christian men for discussion and encouragement. Over the last few years, many of our conversations have been geared toward the times we live in, and the proper response of a godly man to the various challenges of our day. Politics and government often come to the fore. There are so many voices in the public square who tell us our duty, but those voices are in such disagreement on the Christian's role in cultural matters. Today I came upon a letter from John Newton to his young friend John Ryland Jr. about this subject, and I appreciated the simplicity with which Newton addressed the matter when, in his day, war was coming from the French revolutionaries, and the British government was prompted to act:
Great things are upon the wheel. But though the Lord's path is in the great waters, my path of duty seems plain enough. I am to preach the Gospel, mourn over my own sins, and the sins of professors and of the nation, and to stir up as many as I can to stand in the breach by prayer. I hope many are thus employed. For the rest, I know that the Lord reigns, that the wrath of man, so far as permitted to act, shall praise him, shall be overruled to the accomplishment of his wise purposes, and that the remainder thereof he will restrain. All the designs of men, which do not coincide with his, shall be frustrated. In the mean time, he will be a sanctuary to them that fear him. He bids his people not to be terrified. They are warranted to trust in him, though the earth should tremble, and the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea. Public measures, whether right or wrong, are under his direction, If sword, famine, pestilence, or discord, go through the land, he sends them. If he take wisdom from the wise, or courage from the bold, I cannot wonder that they do not prosper, when the Lord has forsaken them. Sennacherib and Cyrus were God's servants; no less so, than Moses or Joshua. They performed his commission and they could do no more.
If I were lawfully called to civil office, I would endeavor to acquire proper knowledge, and to use every means in my power to serve my country. At present, I wish to serve it by prayer, and by employing my influence to soothe angry spirits, and to cultivate peace on all sides. Let the dead bury the dead, and the potsherds of the earth strive with each other, I am a stranger and pilgrim among them. My commonwealth is in a different kingdom, a kingdom that cannot be shaken.*
It's not that Newton did not care what happened in his native country of England. He certainly cared a great deal. But he knew that he was not in control of the various happenings in it. The best way for him to deal with the difficulties of his nation was to pray, and find comfort in the sovereign ways of God, whose path was in the deep waters. If trials came upon his countrymen, it was the Lord's doing, and He had a good purpose for it. If repentance came to the people, it was the Lord's doing, and He had a good purpose for it. Newton was fully convinced that a mighty God was very much the ruler of the world. He did not need to thrash about, and be filled with anxiety over every disturbance. God was at work then, and He still is today. We would be better served to take at least this encouragement from John Newton. God's people should be a praying people in the age we live in. We will serve our nation well if we pray hard, trust in the Lord's providential care, and know that He does all things well. We'll certainly be a more peaceful church, and less stressed by the news of the day.
* Quote from Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland Jr., edited by Grant Gordon, Banner of Truth, 2009.
Tuesday, January 3, 2023
Thursday, April 14, 2022
Countless times I've received pastoral counsel from a man I've never met- at least not face to face. I've met him in the words he wrote to others, and I've sat down with him, in a sense, as he has spoken into my life. I again received pastoral counsel from this old, long-deceased, man, John Newton, today in some words that I read some time ago, but they fit me just as well now as they did before. I have to admit that my heart yearns for the country, and warmth, and trees, and creeks, and fields. About this time every year, coming out of winter, when Buffalo weather just can't let go of yesterday and embrace the inevitable, I get restless. And I need a reminder from pastor Newton that the Lord always knows what is best for me, and He always gives it.
Newton knew the beautiful countryside of England. He pastored in village called Olney for a number of years, where he was able to enjoy the scenery. But in time, the Lord moved him to London, and his work broadened. The scenery was not as pleasing, he felt crowded and wanted to stretch his legs, and he often became restless. In one letter, to a woman named Miss Flower, Newton responds to her about the place she was writing from:
I hope, however, that while you continue abroad you will be happy and easy. How could you tantalize me with mentioning cottages and hills peeping between them? Cottages, hills, woods, birds and brooks, are words which always set my imagination on its tip-toes till sober judgment interposes and commands it to sit down again. Even admitting that Potters Pury far exceeds Windsor or Clifton, and were it June instead of November, neither the place not the company should tempt me to wish myself there when the Lord appoints me to be here.
My imagination does just as his. In March and April, it stands on its tip-toes trying to see where the grass is already being cut, and the trees have already bloomed. But this is where I need to apply to my own heart what the pastor says. I will not wish myself anywhere but where the Lord has planted me. He knows what is best, for myself, for my family, and for the ministry He has given. I am greatly privileged to serve where I am. My church family has been such a blessing for 8+ years. They are God's good people, who know what grace, and love, and truth are. They have been what I've needed. I'm grateful that the Lord knew that before I did, and planted me where my heart could grow (if not April grass). I'll close with a final word from Mr. Newton, as to the wisdom of God:
I hope, however, as we grow older we shall grow wiser, and be more satisfied, that whether we are placed in town or country, whether we are sick or well, the present circumstances for the present time must be best, because of His appointment.
Thursday, November 18, 2021
I have been picking my way through a book recently called We Become What We Worship, by G.K. Beale (1). The guiding principle throughout is this: "What we revere, we resemble, either for ruin or restoration." Whatever it is that your heart is devoted to...you will become like it. Beale begins his argument in Isaiah 6, where the Lord tells the prophet to say to Israel,
"Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed" (Is. 6:9-10).
Why would God want Isaiah to prophesy to these people who would not listen? Dr. Beale claims that the people's heavy ears and blind eyes are a judgment against them for worshipping idols who can't see nor hear. They have been made to become like what they worship. Psalm 115 says it plainly:
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them. (Ps. 115:4-8 ESV)
I was struck by how profound this truth is. As the peoples reject Him, the Lord gives them over to become like whatever they devote their heart, soul, mind, and strength to. Is it any wonder that a person spends all his time listening to angry Fox News diatribes (or CNN if it makes you feel better), that his speech begins to sound like theirs? His heart is being discipled and shaped by the news network he loves. He becomes like what he worships. Do we not also see this principle work its way out in practical ways in our homes? Do our children not begin to resemble whatever culture they start to revere? Do they not begin to behave like those people that they esteem? And make no mistake, that behavior does not come about simply by imitation. Their hearts are being drawn in and shaped, therefore, they genuinely become like those people and ideas they are devoted to.
It caused me to wonder about the current state of the church in America. Couldn't this be the reason why the church looks so much like the world? Could it be that much of what calls itself the church in our nation has a heart that is really devoted to the world, though its lips say otherwise on Sundays? I don't know if faith, hope, and love are the obvious characteristics of the western church, and the simple answer could be that Christ does not have its heart.
As discouraging as this principle is in regard to idolatry, it encourages us to know that the Lord has chosen to remake us into His image, as we revere and worship Him. We are not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2). By God's grace, the Lord has chosen to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29) as we behold Him and love Him, from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). So, just as it is possible to be changed into the image of the idols that a man worships, so it is possible to be transformed into the beautiful image of the Son of God- if we will worship Him alone. If I behold Him, I will become like Him. If our church is beholding Christ, and abiding in Him, we all will take on more and more of the fruit of His nature in community together. This should have a practical impact on the way I (and our church!) choose to spend my time, what I listen to, what I put my eyes on. I need to be aware of devilish draw of the idols around me. These contemporary idols may not be made of wood, blind and deaf, but they have the power to capture my heart, and cause me to become like them. This requires vigilance about my devotion to the One who bought me with His blood. It requires me to "watch," as Jesus so often taught His disciples- to stay awake. It should cause me to press in to His Word, to pray always, and not grow dull. My chief aim then, should be to revere Him, love Him, and worship Him, so I will continue to experience the restoration God has begun (and thankfully complete- Phil. 1:6), to make me into the image of His Son, until I become like Him in glory (1 John 3:2). May the Lord bless your efforts, and faith, as you seek this as well, to the praise of His glorious grace...Do you have an example to share in how you have seen this principle work its way out? How a modern idol has shaped a people to become like it?
(1) G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008)
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
John Newton wrote many pastoral letters in his lifetime. He was uniquely gifted by God to encourage his recipients so long ago, and still encourage those who read from his hand today. This is an excerpt from one such letter to Captain Alexander Clunie in 1766 about the delusions that Satan seeks to use on those in this world:
The good Lord keeps us from his delusions; he is always dangerous, but never more so when he pleads for Gospel doctrines in order to abuse them, and when he tries to pass his counterfeit humility, zeal, and sanctity upon us for pure gold. No coiner can equal him for imitation. Where Christ has a church, he will have a synagogue; where the Spirit produces any graces, he, like the magicians of Egypt, will do something like it, and yet as unlike it, as possible. He has something that comes so near the Gospel, that it is called by St. Paul another gospel, and yet in reality it is no gospel at all. He deals much in half convictions, and almost Christians, but does not like thorough work. He will let people talk about grace as much as they please, and commend them for it, provided talking will satisfy them...But, let him look and talk as he desires--he is Satan still; and those who are experienced and watchful may discern his cloven foot hanging below his fine garment of light! He is never more a devil--than when he looks most like an angel. Let us beware of him; for many wise have been deceived, and many strong have been cast down by him. Let us continually apply to him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us spotless in the end.