John Newton on Monasticism, Mission, and the Desert Fathers

I stumbled across a book of daily readings from John Newton and it has been great. He was an Anglican Pastor in the 18th Century. He is most famous for his hymns and testimony of being saved from a life of sin that included being the captain of a slave ship. Some consider him to be the premier English writer on pastoral subjects. He has such a simple and tender way of expressing deep truths. I came across this excerpt this morning on the topic of being avoiding conformity to the world, and he rightly talks about the false approach to this.

“It is not necessary, perhaps it is not lawful, wholly to renounce the society of the world. A mistake of this kind took place in the early ages of Christianity, and men (at first, perhaps, with a sincere desire of serving God without distraction) withdrew into deserts and uninhabited places, and wasted their lives at a distance from their fellow-creatures. But unless we could flee from ourselves likewise, this would afford us no advantage; so long as we carry our own wicked hearts with us, we shall be exposed to temptation, go where we will. Besides, this would be thwarting the end of our vocation. Christians are to be the salt and the lights of the world, conspicuous as cities set upon a hill; they are commanded to “let their light shine before men, that they, beholding their good works, may glorify their Father who is in heaven.” This injudicious deviation from the paths of nature and providence, gave occasion at length to the vilest abominations; and men who withdrew from the world, under pretense of retirement, became the more wicked and abandoned as they lived more out of public view and observation.

“Nor are we at liberty, much less are we enjoined, to renounce the duties of relative life, so as to become careless in the discharge of them. Allowances should, indeed, be made for the distresses of people newly awakened, or under the power of temptation, which may for a time so much engross their thoughts as greatly to indispose them for their bounded duty. But, in general, the proper evidence of true Christians is, not merely that they can talk about Divine things, but that, by the grace of God, they live and act agreeable to the rules of his word, in the state in which his providence has placed them, whether as masters or servants, husbands or wives, parents or children; bearing rule, or yielding obedience, as in his sight. Diligence and fidelity in the management of temporal concernments, though observable in the practice of many worldly men, may be maintained without a sinful conformity to the world.”

You can read the rest here. He goes on to talk about asceticism ( “A man may almost starve his body to feed his pride…”) and several other important topics. He summarizes that we must not conform to the spirit of the world, the maxims of the world, and the amusements of the world. As is so often the case, hearing someone talk about this while situated several centuries away is helpful.

Peace or No Peace? Which Is It? — Free Grace Church

Here is a post I wrote on our Church blog at

Jesus says “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51).

After discussing how sin reveals itself in social structures I discuss the way that Jesus calls us to stand against the current around us. But that is still expensive. How could anyone be joyfully willing to pay that price?

“Here is the good news. Every other group that demands your allegiance will take advantage of you. They will use you for their own ends. They will expect you to sacrifice yourself for the good of the group. But Jesus is different. Just before he says that he did not come to bring peace, he says this, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished?” (Luke 12:50). What is this baptism? It is referring to his death on the cross (Mark 10:38).  Every other group is a kind of vampire. They will use you for their own ends.  And if you fail them, they will disown you. But Jesus, the only one worthy of your complete devotion, laid down his life for yours.  And he had to do that because of your misplaced loyalties.   And it is this love and sacrifice that is the power that moves us. It allows us to suffer the loss of relationships, respect, and approval that comes from standing with Christ against the world.”

Source: Peace or No Peace? Which Is It? — Free Grace Church

Jesus Friend of Sinners

Rabbi friends

I was recently invited to give a devotional at a pastor’s meeting where we discussing outreach and the importance of loving our neighbors.  The general text of my talk is below:

Luke 5:27-32

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (ESV Bible Translation)

In this passage, we see that Jesus has rescued Levi… one of the worst kinds of men, he was a tax collector. He was most likely a Jewish man, probably from the tribe of the priests. He should have been receiving tithes to fund worship in the house of God, instead he is a traitor… taking taxes to give to the Romans.  And most tax collectors also committed extortion.

But Levi has come to follow Jesus.  And he will become one of the most of the most influential men in the history of the church. He is the apostle Matthew. We still read his gospel.  This is what Jesus Christ does, he takes the people that we look down on, people that are hopelessly corrupt and despised… and He saves them and gives them a great calling. He makes them sons and servants of God. This should give us hope. God might even use someone like you!

After Levi comes to follow Jesus, he is so overjoyed with his new relationship with Christ that he throws a party. He wants all of his friends to meet this Rabbi that is different than any other rabbi… Let me say this, the only way the people in our churches will ever do anything like this, is if they are so amazed and thrilled with Jesus Christ that he is their treasure.

So, Jesus is eating and drinking with tax collectors, and “Sinners.” And the Pharisees protest, they ask the question in v. 30, “Why are you doing this?”  Jesus is so close, and so friendly, with these awful people, there can only be one reason.  He must be supporting them in their sin.

Jesus answers with his own mission statement in v. 32. He is like a doctor that came to help the sick. He didn’t come to help healthy people, but the lost and broken.

I would like to suggest that the Pharisees don’t really have a problem with WHAT Jesus is doing. The idea of telling these dirty sinners that they need to repent is probably OK with them. If he stood on the street and yelled at them, they would probably stand and cheer. No, Their problem is with HOW he is doing it.  How is Jesus calling them to repentance? By eating and drinking with them. He has become friends with them, and through friendship calling them back to fellowship with God. His actions are a living parable of the message of the gospel. God makes his enemies to become his friends.

This doesn’t fit very nicely into our box does it!  In many places in the church people live at the far ends of the spectrum.

Some embrace the lost and “sinners” by becoming friends with them. They want to love and support them, but they don’t offer them any medicine.  In fact, they think that if you suggest that people are spiritually “sick”, then you must be judgmental.

On the other end there are Christians that want to call people to repentance, but they do it from a safe distance. They want to do it the way we are fighting terrorists, with drones. They do it by tract bombing, or doing “outreach” twice a year. They want to do it from a place of moral superiority. They are concerned that getting too close to lost people might get them dirty or damage their reputation.  Though I have probably been guilty of both extremes, I think this second one is far more common among serious christians.

But Jesus does something different, he is able to receive and love people without endorsing or participating in their vices and sins. And he is able to call them to repentance, without alienating them or withdrawing from their company.

Brothers and sisters, this is our great salvation and our great example. And we will never be able to do this if we think we are the healthy and righteous ones. We will only be able to do this when we see that we are the sinners he came to call. When we see ourselves like Levi, completely beyond hope. But thrilled that we have a place at the table- that we have been loved and received by Grace.


Photo used courtesy of the University of Washington. 

Jonathan Edwards on the Poor

Of the obligation of Christians to perform the duty of charity to the poor.

“THIS duty is absolutely commanded, and much insisted on, in the Word of God. Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor? We have the same law in a positive manner laid down in Lev. 25:35, etc. “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him; yea, though he be a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with thee.” And at the conclusion of verse 38, God enforces it with saying, I am the Lord thy God.

“It is mentioned in Scripture, not only as a duty, but a great duty. Indeed it is generally acknowledged to be a duty, to be kind to the needy. But by many it seems not to be looked upon as a duty of great importance. However, it is mentioned in Scripture as one of the greater and more essential duties of religion. Mic. 6:8, “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Here to love mercy is mentioned as one of the three great things that are the sum of all religion. So it is mentioned by the apostle James, as one of the two things wherein pure and undefiled religion consists. Jam. 1:27, “Pure religion, and undefiled, before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

“So Christ tells us, it is one of the weightier matters of the law. Mat. 23:23, “Ye have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” The Scriptures again and again teach us that it is a more weighty and essential thing than the attendance on the outward ordinances of worship. Hos. 6:6, “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;” Mat. 9:13 and 12:7. I know of scarce any duty which is so much insisted on, so pressed and urged upon us, both in the Old Testament and New, as this duty of charity to the poor.”

Jonathan Edwards From The Duty of Charity to the Poor, Explained and Enforced

The Ministry of Listening

The Ministry of Listening


“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”

“Life Together” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Welcome To Heartbreak

One of the things I have been trying to do lately is to pay closer attention to the culture around me so that I can understand what people actually believe and eventually find the “cracks in the armor” that may present an opportunity to share the truth of Christ. I love it when I can allow other people, especially people who don’t even confess faith in Jesus, to make a point for me. These are the lyrics to the rap song “welcome to heartbreak” by Kanye West. I think this is a candid admission of the emptiness of life apart from the grace of God, and things like this may help to provide an open door with people that would otherwise be closed.

Welcome To Heartbreak lyrics

My friend showed me pictures of his kids
And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs
He said his daughter got a brand new report card
And all I got was a brand new sports car, oh

And my head keeps spinning
Can’t stop having these visions, I gotta get with it
And my head keeps spinning
I can’t stop having these visions, I gotta get with it

Dad cracked a joke, all the kids laughed
But I couldn’t hear him all the way in first class
Chased the good life my whole life long
Look back on my life and my life gone
Where did I go wrong?

And my head keeps spinning
Can’t stop having these visions, I gotta get with it
And my head keeps spinning
I can’t stop having these visions, I gotta get with it

I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it before
I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it before
I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it before
I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it before

Oh my God, sister getting married by the lake
But I couldn’t figure out who I’d wanna take
Bad enough that I showed up late
I had to leave before they even cut the cake
Welcome to heartbreak

And my head keeps spinning
Can’t stop having these visions, I gotta get with it
And my head keeps spinning
I can’t stop having these visions, I gotta get with it

And I and I can’t stop
No, no, I can’t stop
No, no, no, no, I can’t stop
No, no, no, no, I can’t stop

Can’t stop, I can’t stop, I can’t stop
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
No, no, no, no
No, no, I can’t stop

I can’t stop having these visions
I gotta get with it

Church Planting Research Paper

Below you will find the results of my church planting research project. I have performed this investigation to provide a better picture of what is going on among Reformed Baptists in North America in the area of church planting, and to make several recommendations that will help us to be more faithful to the great commission and its fulfillment here at home. The document can be printed or read online. I am aware that there are limitations to all research, and that ultimately the teaching of scripture is all that matters. Consequently I realize that this paper is just one point of view, and that not everyone will agree with what I have said. I welcome any comments and input on this paper, and hope that this brief treatment of church planting will promote more discussion and continued reformation of our beliefs and practices to the will of Christ.

I discovered several things that are encouraging in this area, but more causes for concern, and perhaps even alarm. This project suggests that RB’s are not excelling in the area of domestic church planting, and that some common approaches to planting churches among RB’s are in need of reformation.

Several comments on the format of the paper are in order. Azusa Pacific University (where I was studying) requires the use of APA style. This format requires citations within the text, and stylistically is very “dry.” It does not allow for very much expressiveness in the way a paper is written. My apologies ahead of time.

Additionally, the format of the paper requires a bit of redundancy throughout the chapters in the form of summaries. For those who are not interested in research theory, you may find that reading chapter 2 (the literature review) is helpful. But most important is chapter 4 (page 40-70). This is the meat of the research where the results are presented and discussed.

The State of RB Church Planting by Matt Troupe

This is appendix C from the research which shows the list of known RB church plants in the last 10 years.

RB Church Planting Appendix Table

Lock the Church!

Get equipped, and then get out of the church and into the world!

“Despite his insistence on the primacy of the church, Calvin knew the church had its limits. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress illustrates these limits well. In his classic allegory, Bunyan calls the church “the house built by the Lord of the HIll for the safety and rest of pilgrims.” Bunyan has his main character, Christian, enter this house, the church; he has him “fed,” his allegory for the sermon and for the Lord’s Supper; and he has him led into the armory, where he is equipped. Then Bunyan has the keepers of the house send him away, out into the world. Calvin did the same for his parishioners by locking the church doors after the service. Christians, having been fed and equipped, refreshed and nourished, are to be in the world, according to Calvin…Calvin locked the church doors so the church could be in the world…Calvin locked the church doors after the service because he wanted the church to be salt and light in the world that God made and entrusted to us.”

Stephen Nichols, The Reformation, Crossway Books: 2007, pg. 79-82.

God Scatters His People for His Own Purposes

“In many ways the great Head of the Church scatters His servants abroad; but they ought of themselves to scatter voluntarily. Every Christian should say, “Where can I do the most good?” and if he can do more good anywhere beneath the sun than in the land of his birth, he is bound to go there, if he can. God will have us scattered; and if we will not go afield willingly, He may use providential necessity as the forcible means of our dispersion.”
CH Spurgeon