My Life as a Christian

Lessons and Highlights from Twin Lakes Fellowship 2018

With one of the keynote speakers, Rev. H.B. Charles of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida.

From Monday to Thursday last week I had an opportunity to attend a gathering of ministers, elders, seminary professors, and seminarians called Twin Lakes Fellowship (TLF). The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi (PCA) organizes the fellowship with this vision in mind: “We seek (by brotherly persuasion, helpful publication, friendly discussion, and compelling example) to build a church that will be faithful to the following commitments: expository preaching, biblical worship, biblical and confessional theology, a biblical understanding of the Gospel, a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of church membership, a biblical understanding of mutual accountability in the church, a biblical understanding of church government, and a biblical view of Christian discipleship – and thus a church with a shared vision of ministry.”

As always, this year’s gathering was rich and full of sound and God-glorifying teachings, exhortations plus fellowship. This year’s TLF granted me an opportunity to fellowship with brothers from the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), Free Church of Scotland, Southern Baptist, and other denominations. I was significantly edified and encouraged by various sessions and interactions with my brothers. While I cannot exhaust everything in this post, here are some of the highlights and lessons from TLF 2018:

We cannot do ministry without the Holy Spirit. The keynote speakers, H.B. Charles and Geoff Thomas, emphasized on our need for the Holy Spirit to empower us not only for ministry but also for our personal walk with Christ. Without the Holy Spirit our preaching and shepherding is in vain. I know that many of us know this truth very well but how often do we live as if we don’t know it. So, it was a blessing to be reminded again of our need and dependence upon the Holy Spirit who not only empowers us but also continually intercedes for us. As H.B. put it, the Holy Spirit is our ultimate prayer partner.

The best of men are men at best. Jon D. Payne gave a lecture on the life and ministry of Dr. David Martin Lloyd Jones fondly known by many as the doctor. We praise the Lord for the life and faithful ministry of Dr. Jones who as Payne put it is probably the greatest preacher of the 20th Century. Yet despite being used greatly by Christ, the doctor just like all of us was also a man of weaknesses both personal and theological. Payne focused more on the latter and highlighted some of the doctor’s shortcomings in the area of pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit). D. Martin Lloyd Jones like many of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians today believed in the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion. He even supported the charismatic movement of his day in private but never in public. As I sat and listened to the lecture, I recalled one of my professors in seminary who often reminded us: the best of men are men at best. The best among us are made of feet of clay. This truth calls for humility and teachable spirit when fellow brothers point us to our own shortcomings, which we might be unaware of.

Never neglect the courts of the church. I was encouraged to hear of what the Lord is doing in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. The denomination is slowly recovering from the liberal direction it had taken over the past four decades or so. One of the factors that has contributed to this good development is conservative men taking initiative and being fully involved in the courts of the church, especially, at presbytery and synod levels. These brothers have with patience and endurance fought the good fight without despair. The Lord is now rewarding their faithfulness. One lesson I gathered as I heard this uplifting news was to never forget that the Lord is still at work even in our church courts although they might be imperfect and often heavily tainted with our sin.

The power is in the word itself. Using the parable of the growing seed in Mark 4:26-29, David Strain encouraged us to continue steadfastly with the means of grace ministry. He focused more on the power of God’s word. As preachers, we have been called to do two things: sow the seed and harvest when the fruit is ready. What happens between the time of sowing and harvesting is none of our business. “Growth is God’s business, faithfulness is ours.” The power of the gospel is not in our gifts, skills, academic abilities, or anything in us. So we should never be tempted to think that we could improve the gospel in any way. What a comforting truth! I praise the Lord that I was at TLF this year because this is exactly what I need to hear.

All is not lost in Scotland. I should confess that I have a special place for Scotland in my heart. As a Presbyterian from Malawi, Scotland is my “holy” land so to speak since it was the Scottish missionaries who first brought Presbyterianism to Malawi in the late 1800s. Over the years I have been hearing depressing stories of Presbyterianism dying in Scotland. But I was encouraged last week to hear stories of God’s powerful work there. I met some brothers who are involved in planting churches in the toughest and poorest neighborhoods of Scotland through 20 Schemes Project. My heart rejoiced and I praised the Lord for the great things he is doing in the once called ‘land of the Book.’ I will continue to pray for revival in the land of the Scots as I also continue to pray for revival in Malawi and North America.

“Brother, we are praying for you and we will get behind God’s work in Malawi.” During the fellowship I had a couple of opportunities to share my desire of returning to the land of my birth to plant confessional Presbyterian churches as well as train young men for ministry. Confessional Presbyterianism has been on its deathbed for a long time in Malawi. There is a need to revive it, the Lord willing, as one way of combating false teachers and prophets that have gone out deceiving people and hewing cisterns that will not satisfy. The work is huge and who is sufficient for these things? For sure, not me! But praise God that Christ is sufficient and has promised, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it.” Oh, what a promise! So I was greatly encouraged to see the brothers getting excited with the work and praying for it.

As the week came to an end, I packed up to fly out of the warm and beautiful spring of Jackson, Mississippi into the snowy and gloomy spring of Lansing, Michigan (not complaining at all for I have learnt to give thanks in all things). Throughout the way I praised the Lord for a rich fellowship of like-minded brothers. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity…It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1, 3).

 

 

 

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Christianity and theology

Happy 499th Reformation Day!

Happy Reformation Day!

Today we celebrate 499 years since the Protestant Reformation began. We need to thank the Lord for his faithfulness and goodness to his church.

As I was reflecting on the Reformation, I thought of the common saying, “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (latin for “the church reformed, always reforming”). No doubt this one of the abused sayings in the Church today. Often it has been used to argue that the church needs to keep reforming or changing according to times.

For instance, I heard one arguing for female leadership in the church basing on the phrase. The argument went something like this: the church has been led by male leadership over the centuries, but now it’s time to embrace female leadership because the Church is reformed and always reforming.

What an abuse of this well-meaning phrase. The Church does not reform with times, it reforms with the word. Christ reforms his Church by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (the church reformed, always reforming according to the Word of God).

When the Old Testament church was deformed, God used the word to reform it (Nehemiah 8). The Pharisees also deformed the Church with their man made rules and Christ used the word to reform it (Matt. 5:17-20). The same thing happened in the 16th Century. God used his Word to Reform his Church. Reformation without the word is not Reformation at all. If the church is reforming without the Word, it is actually deforming.

Happy Reformation with the Word!

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My Life as a Christian

Lecture #2: The Call to the Ministry (Second Session)

Pastor Spurgeon continues with his lecture…

“The first sign of the heavenly call is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.  In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling others what God has done to our own souls…If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven let him go his way.

“We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it and unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister. I speak of self-denials, and well I may; for the true pastor’s work is full of them.  (Therefore), the desire to ministry must be thoughtful one and must be thoroughly disinterested one meaning that if a man can detect, after the most earnest self-examination, any other motive than the glory of God and the good of souls, he must turn aside from it at once.

“In the second place, combined with the earnest desire to become a pastor, there must be aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of a public instructor.  I do not claim  that the first time a man rises to speak he must preach  as well as Robert Hall did in his later days…If a man be called to preach, he will be endowed with a degree of speaking ability, which he will cultivate increase. If the gift of utterance be not there in a measure at the first, it is not likely that it will ever be developed.

“I have heard of a gentleman who had a most intense desire to preach, and pressed his suit upon his minister, until after a multitude of rebuffs he obtained leave to preach a trial sermon. That opportunity was the end  of his importunity, for upon announcing his text he found himself bereft of every idea but one, which he delivered feelingly, and then descended the rostrum. “My brethren,” said he, “if any of you think it an easy thing to preach, I advise you to come up here and have all the conceit taken out of you.”

“I should not complete this point if I did not add, that mere ability to edify, and aptness to teach is not enough, there must be other talents to complete the pastoral character. Sound judgment and solid experience must instruct you; gentle manners and loving affections must sway you; firmness and courage must be manifest; and tenderness and sympathy must not be lacking.

Gifts administrative in ruling well will be as requisite as gifts instructive in teaching well. You must be fitted to lead, prepared to endure, and able to persevere. In grace, you should be head and shoulders above the rest of the people, able to be their father and counselor. Read carefully the qualifications of an elder, given in 1 Timothy 3:2-7, and in Titus 1:6-9. If such gifts and graces be not in you and abound, it may be possible for you to succeed as an evangelist, but as a pastor you will be of no account.

“In order further to prove a man’s call, after al little exercise of his gifts, such as I have already spoken of, he must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts, or he may conclude that he has made a mistake, and therefore, may go back by the best way he can…There must be some measure of conversion-work in your irregular labors before you can believe that preaching is to be your life-work…Brethren, if the Lord give you no zeal for souls, keep to the lapstone or the trowel, but avoid the pulpit as you value your heart’s peace and your future salvation.

“A step beyond all this is however needful in our inquiry. The will of the Lord concerning pastors is made known through the prayerful judgment of his church. It is needful as a proof of your vocation that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God. God usually opens doors of utterance for those whom he calls to speak in his name…Standing up to preach, our spirit will be judged of the assembly, and if it be condemned, or if, as a general rule, the church is not edified, the conclusion may not be disputed, that we are not sent of God.

“Churches are not all wise, neither do they all judge in the power of the Holy Ghost, but many of them judge after the flesh; yet I had sooner accept the opinion of a company of the Lord’s people than my own upon so personal a subject as my own gifts and graces.”

Professor Spurgeon wraps up the session with this deep insight borrowed from John Newton’s letter to a friend:

“If it be the Lord’s will to bring you into his ministry, he has already appointed your place and service, and though you know it not at present, you shall at a proper time. If you had the talents of an angel, you could do no good with them till his hour is come, and till he leads you to the people whom he has determined to bless by your means. It is very difficult to restrain ourselves within the bounds of prudence here, when our zeal is warm: a sense of the love of Christ upon our hearts, and a tender compassion for poor sinners, is ready to prompt us to break out too soon; but he that believes shall not make haste.”

The lecture to be concluded later…

 

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My Life as a Christian

Lecture #2: The Call to the Ministry (First Session)

Our professor, Charles Spurgeon, just finished his lecture #1, two days ago. Today, he is bringing us his second lecture which he has entitled, “The Call to the Ministry.” This lecture will be divided into three sessions. The first one is more of an introduction. In the second session, the professor will lecture on 5 essentials to be considered in ascertaining a call to the ministry. He will conclude the lecture in the third session by sharing his personal experiences to aspirants for the ministry.

“Any Christian has a right to disseminate the gospel who has the ability to do so; and more, he not only has the right, but it is his duty to do so as long as he lives (Rev. 22:17). The propagation of the gospel is left, not to a few, but to all the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ according to the measure of grace entrusted to them by the Holy Spirit, each man is bound to minister in his day and generation, both to the church and among unbelievers.

“Indeed, this question goes beyond men, and even includes the whole of the other sex; whether believers are male or female, they are all bound, when enabled by divine grace, to exert themselves to the service, however, need not take the particular form of preaching-certainly, in some cases it must not, as for instance in the case of females, who public teaching is expressly prohibited (1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:34).

“I do not, however, in this lecture allude to occasional preaching, or any other form of ministry common to all the saints, but to the work and office of the bishopric (pastor), in which is included both teaching and bearing rule in the church, which requires dedication of a man’s entire life to spiritual work, and separation from every secular calling (2 Tim. 2:4); and entitles the man to cast himself for temporal supplies upon the church of God, since he gives up all his time, energies, and endeavors, for the  good of those over whom he presides (1 Cor. 9:11; 1 Tim. 5:18).

Professor Spurgeon then goes no to highlight the importance of God’s call to ministry rather than self-calling, so to speak. He writes, “No man may intrude into the sheepfold as an under-shepherd; he must have an eye to the chief Shepherd, and wait his beck and command. Or ever a man stands forth as God’s ambassador, he must wait for the call from above; and if he does not so, but rushes into the sacred office, the Lord will say of him and others like him, “I sent them not, neither commanded them; therefore, they shall not profit this people at all, says the Lord,” (Jer. 23:32).”

Spurgeon at this juncture cites instances of prophets Isaiah (Is.6:8), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:4-10), Ezekiel (Ezk. 2:1-3; 3:1-4), and Daniel who had been called into ministry by God. He then applies the truths regarding the calling of these prophets to the present day. “In the present dispensation, the priesthood is common to all the saints; but to prophecy, or what is analogous to be moved by the Holy Ghost to give oneself up wholly to the proclamation of the gospel, is, as a matter of fact, the gift and calling of only a comparatively small number; and surely these need to be sure of the rightfulness of their position as were the prophets; and yet how can they justify their office, except by a similar call?”

“Brethren, I trust you may be able one day to speak of the flock over whom “the Holy Ghost has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28), and I pray that every one of you may be able to say with the apostle of the Gentiles, that your ministry is not of man, neither by man, but that you have received it of the Lord (Gal. 1:1). In you may that ancient promise be fulfilled, “I will give them pastors according to mine heart,” (Jer. 3:15)…As the Lord Jesus went up to the Mount and called to him whom he would, and then sent them forth to preach (Mark 3:13), even so may he select you, call you upward to commune with himself, and send you forth as his elect servants to bless both the church and the world.”

The first session of this lecture ends here…

 

 

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My Life as a Christian

The Minister’s Self-Watch: Be sure you are converted

     It has been some time since our last class.  It seems our professor, Pastor Spurgeon, was tied up with other equally important assignments but now is back and is bringing his second lecture which he has entitled, “The Minster’s Self-Watch.”

     In this lecture, Spurgeon discusses the need for constant self-evaluation of a minister or a pastor. Of course, this is to be done by the grace of God. He opens with this profound thought:

     “It is true that the Lord can work with the faultiest kind of instrumentality, to be useful in conversion; and he can even work without agents, as he does when he saves men without a preacher at all, applying the word directly by his Holy Spirit; but we cannot regard God’s absolutely sovereign acts a rule for our action…This is a practical truth for our guidance, when the Lord makes exceptions, they do but prove the rule.”

     By this Spurgeon emphasizes on the need for a minister or God’s servant to prepare themselves, by God grace, for service every day. There is no room for neglecting this responsibility on pretext that God can use anything, even that which man intends for evil, to accomplish good (Genesis 50:19).

     Spurgeon goes on to illustrate how negligence of our both spiritual and physical preparation for God’s service can ruin even the good things we would like to accomplish for God as he writes: “It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organize societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul and body are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle axe and weapons of war.”

     Professor Spurgeon goes on to list the following important points.

First, “It should be one of our first cares that we ourselves be saved men…How horrible to be preacher of the gospel and yet to be unconverted… Unconverted ministry involves the most unnatural relationships. A graceless pastor is a blind man elected into a professorship of optics.” Spurgeon has a great sense of humor but here he drives home a very important truth.

     Spurgeon then quotes from “Reformed Pastor” by Richard Baxter and writes: “Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master’s work. Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade others to be, and believe that which you persuade them daily to believe, and have heartily entertained that Christ and Spirit which you offer unto others.”

     While asserting the need for a preacher to be a converted man, Spurgeon still accepts the fact that: “The word of an unconverted man may be blessed to the conversion of souls, since the Lord, while he disowns the man, will still honor his own truth.”

     Oh, it’s already time! Professor Spurgeon will stop here for today. May God grant us the grace to reflect on these matters and instill in us the hunger to seek to be his better instruments through His grace alone. 

 


 

 

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Christianity and theology

Jesus Christ is the Final Word

“In sum, great benefits come to God’s people if they are willing to take seriously the fact that the ‘final revelation’ has come in the Christ of Scriptures. Far from hindering enthusiasm and a sense of the immediacy of God’s presence in their midst, faith in the sufficiency of Scripture will move them to serve him with the full vigor of their beings. It must not be forgotten how the resurrected Christ stirred the hearts of his depressed disciples. The Gospel of Luke explains that Jesus enlivened his followers by opening to them the Scriptures. Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27). Why? Why did the resurrected Christ speak to them in this way? Why did he not simply give them a new revelation?

The resurrected Jesus opened the scriptures to them because that would be the way by which spiritual life would be sustained for them from this point on. As a consequence of his opening the Scriptures, their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32). The same principle has continued through all the ages. As the resurrected Christ through his Spirit opens the Scriptures to his people, their hearts have burned within them. Much greater than depending on the stimulus of new revelations of the Spirit is living out the sufficiency of the final word as it is found in the Christ of the Scriptures.

And why not both? Why not the illumination of Scripture coupled with new revelations of the Spirit? Simply because if you declare a need for both, you have implied the insufficiency of the one. You have placed yourself back in the framework of the old covenant, in a time when new revelations were required because of the incompleteness of the old. But Christ is the final word. No further word for the  redemption of men in the present age in needed. In Scripture is found all the truth that is needed for life and godliness.

May the Lord grant his church today a full unleashing of its potential that comes from the full knowledge of the truth as it is found in Jesus. For he is the final word.”

Taken from: “The Final Word: A Biblical Response to the Case for Tongues and Prophecy Today” by Dr. O. Palmer Robertson.

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Beware of ‘Revelations’!

“Is the truth that which I imagine to be revealed to me by some private communication? Am I to fancy that I enjoy some special Revelation and am I to order my life by voices, dreams and impressions?

Brothers and Sisters, fall not into this common delusion! God’s Word to us is in Holy Scripture. All the Truth that sanctifies men is in God’s Word! Do not listen to those who cry, “Lo here!” and, “Lo there!”

I am plucked by the sleeve almost every day by crazy persons and pretenders who think that they have Revelations from God. One man tells me that God has sent a message to me by him—and I reply, “No, Sir, the Lord knows where I dwell and He is so near to me that He would not need to send to me by you.”

Another man announces, in God’s name, a dogma which, on the face of it, is a lie against the Holy Spirit. He says the Spirit of God told him so-and-so, but we know that the Holy Spirit never contradicts Himself. If your imaginary Revelation is not according to this Word of God, it has no weight with us! And if it is according to this Word, it is no new thing!

Brothers and Sisters, this Bible is enough if the Lord does but use it and quicken it by His Spirit in our hearts. Truth is neither your opinion, nor mine—your message, nor mine! Jesus says, “Your Word is truth.” That which sanctifies men is not only truth, but it is the particular Truth of God which is revealed in God’s Word—“Your Word is truth.” What a blessing it is that all the Truth that is necessary to sanctify us is revealed in the Word of God, so that we have not to expend our energies upon discovering the Truth of God, but may, to our far greater profit, use Revealed Truth for its Divine ends and purposes!

There will be no more Revelations—no more are needed! The Canon is fixed and complete—and he that adds to it shall have added to him the plagues that are written in this Book! What need of more when here is enough for every practical purpose? “Sanctify them through Your truth: Your Word is truth.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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